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Bayh out, Edwards likely in as 2008 field takes shape

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Edwards (The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Two different answers came Saturday to the question facing all Democrats mulling a presidential run: How can anyone compete with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Evan Bayh said he can’t. John Edwards decided he can.

Clinton and Obama haven’t even entered the race yet, but their possible candidacies have dominated the positioning almost two years before the actual election.

Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee, hopes to make his own splash by announcing his candidacy late this month in New Orleans, two Democrats said.

Edwards’ choice of sites shows how he wants to distinguish his candidacy: emphasizing policies he believes can unite a country divided by economic inequality. That situation is no more evident than in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina – and a reminder of the Bush administration’s much-criticized hurricane response.

Bayh’s exit stunned rivals and supporters. The former Indiana governor abandoned his bid just two weeks after forming a committee to raise money and gauge support.

“The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath,” Bayh said in the statement. He added that beyond the question of “whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I’m just not the right David,” his chances were slim.

Bayh did not say who he considered to be the Goliaths. Obama and Clinton are attracting most of the attention among the 10 or more Democrats considering a bid.

Edwards, however, is in a strong position as the leading candidate in the first nominating state, Iowa. He has taken the lead in Iowa polling even with favorite son Gov. Tom Vilsack in the mix.

Edwards already is well-known from the 2004 campaign and his profile has risen this year as he and his wife, Elizabeth, went on nationwide tours to promote their books.

Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter said Clinton and Obama have emerged as the front-runners much earlier than was the case in previous campaigns. But she said another candidate could compete.

“There’s room for one more. The question is: Who is it right now? And I don’t think anybody can tell you with any real certainty of who that could be,” she said.

Cutter said it is unclear if Edwards, despite campaigning hard in Iowa, can hold his lead until early 2008, when the state holds its nominating contest, as potential rivals get serious about the race.

Edwards plans to give Iowa more attention in an announcement tour to begin around Dec. 28, the Democratic officials said. He plans to travel from New Orleans to Iowa and the three other early voting states – Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The officials who discussed Edwards’ plans spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt his announcement. Edwards’ spokesman, David Ginsberg, would not confirm or deny Edwards’ plans.

Bayh got a taste of the competition Obama poses when they were in New Hampshire last weekend. Bayh, who had worked for months to line up support in the state, spoke at small gatherings; Obama, on his first visit, drew thousands of activists and hordes of reporters at two packed events.

Bayh, 50, left open the possibility of another run. “There may be no campaign in the near future, but there is much work to be done,” the two-term senator said.


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