DES MOINES, IA.—“I think Obama shooting at us says everything,” Dave “Mudcat” Saunders is telling me on Tuesday.
Saunders is the rural strategist for former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) who now is seen as having found new momentum in Iowa, where Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) are deadlocked.
It’s not so much that Edwards is surging 15 days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus; he’s been strong all along, but the media was paying more attention to frontrunners Obama and Clinton. Now he is growing as a factor. Everything is fluid.
“At least early on, there was a lot of glitz associated with Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama,” Edwards told Chris Matthews Tuesday night on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “I think that`s faded some, to be honest with you, and now I think we`re getting down to the nitty-gritty.”
Obama and Clinton have to be careful in dealing with Edwards.
For Obama, running on the same anti-Washington message as Edwards, the challenge for Obama is to beat him up a bit but not so much as to alienate voters who are torn between the two.
Obama’s big weakness is the same one that he started with in February when he launched his presidential bid—his experience. On Tuesday, Obama hosted a panel in Des Moines with the foreign policy experts on his team to bolster his creditionals. Obama said Monday of Edwards' time in the Senate, "What did you do?"
Edwards has been very lucky in his second run for president. He has less experience than Obama but it’s not been an issue for him. Somehow, running for president in 2004 and being tapped to be Sen. John Kerry’s running mate inoculated him from criticism.
Because the winner of the caucus may not be determined in the first round of voting, each campaign is pursuing a second choice strategy and Clinton wants her voters to go to Edwards if she does not make the first cut.
Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz says that since the debate last Thursday in Des Moines—where Edwards won strong reviews in focus groups—the campaign has seen an increase in on-line fund-raising, e-mail signups and all sorts of web traffic.
“Edwards is running the rail,” said Saunders. “He’s going down the stretch. “He is a strong closer.”