Thursday, January 17, 2008

John Edwards’ angry campaign against “greedy” corporations has failed to move him above third place in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, despite a worsening economy that has become the top issue in this year’s election.

Democrats acknowledge that their party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee has led the fiercest attack on corporate special interests — particularly big oil, pharmaceutical and health insurance companies — vowing to “stand up to them” and “take them on.” But they also acknowledge that Mr. Edward’s combative rhetoric has not resonated with a majority of Democrats, even though polls show they are the most pessimistic about the economy’s future.

Some Democrats say the former North Carolina senator’s angry tone and his vast wealth as a successful liability trial lawyer who has sued major corporations may be part of his problem. Business lobbyists and Republicans dismiss his campaign as “old-style class warfare” that they say turns off most voters.

“I think it’s impressive he has gotten the votes he has when the vast majority of the news media’s coverage has been on Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. I don’t think he’s had a fair shot,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal advocacy group here.

“But I don’t think you can realistically say that bad economic times are all the corporations’ fault. The fact that he’s a rich person with a huge home, I’m sure that bothers a lot of people,” Mr. Baker said. His message is delivered in “a combative, sort of beaten-down tone.”

Mr. Edwards has been stuck in third place in most polls since early last year as he escalated his attacks against Wall Street bankers and powerful corporations, which he said were overcharging consumers.

That message resonated most strongly in Iowa, a heavily Democratic, labor union state, where he edged into second place ahead of Mrs. Clinton. But he trailed badly in New Hampshire and dropped out of the primary in Michigan, where the economy is mired in a recession with 7.4 percent unemployment, well above the national average.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released Monday, shows that Mr. Obama has gained 14 points among likely Democratic voters, with 37 percent, Mrs. Clinton has lost 11 points, with 42 percent, and Mr. Edwards is flat at 11 percent.

Yesterday, Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Mr. Edwards, told The Washington Times that “we have two $100 million candidates running against us, and the fact that he is still standing shows the power of his message.”

“We were grossly outspent in New Hampshire. Obama spent $4.2 million on TV, Clinton spend $3.5 million, and we spent only $1.4 million,” Mr. Schultz said.

Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’ve heard this kind of populist rhetoric over and over again in past campaigns, and those candidates have never been elected. This doesn’t play with most Americans.”

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