PATRICK, S.C. – If there is a star-crossed candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is the one. Four years ago, he dazzled the Palmetto State, but this time his glitter is getting lost in the glare surrounding his two celebrity rivals.
“They’re supernovas, but he’s a falling star,” said Walter Edgar, a professor and specialist in Southern politics at the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
A native of South Carolina, the son of a millworker and the candidate who speaks most often about the poverty ensnaring so many in small town and rural America, Edwards remains stuck in third place, according to polls in the run-up to the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary on Saturday. And he has yet to win any of the early presidential contests.
Is it likely he could still win South Carolina this time? “Not really,” said Wendell Perdue, mayor of Patrick, a fading, century-old town of 350 people, where Edwards, 54, dropped in at an auto parts and gun shop on Wednesday.
“You never give up, but it’s going to be an uphill battle,” said Perdue, 58, who will vote for Edwards. “I think he can relate to the small towns and the people who are struggling, and we have a lot of people struggling here.”
For ardent supporters like Perdue and political scientists alike, there is little mystery about what is stalling Edwards in this campaign.
In essence, however good the candidate, it’s hard to be a middle-aged Southern white guy competing against the historic candidacies of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who could be the first female president, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who could be the first African-American to sit in the Oval Office.
As Obama described the Democratic field, during the Democratic debate Monday night, it’s a race “where you’ve got an African-American and a woman and … John.”
Former Michigan Rep. David Bonior, who is Edwards’ campaign manager, acknowledged that the historic qualities of Edwards’ rivals “have impacted things enormously for us.”
However, Bonior reiterated Edwards’ intention to stay in the race until summer’s Democratic convention and said the campaign has sufficient resources to do that. “We’ll just march on and continue to raise the issues that have distinguished him in the race,” said Bonior.
Headlining those issues are poverty and the struggles of working people, which also were themes of Edwards’ 2004 campaign in which he spoke passionately about “the two Americas,” one for the rich and one for the rest.