John Edwards, one of the men running against Hillary Clinton in the battle to be nominated as the Democrats' candidate for next year's presidential election, is making a renewed effort to prove he's the stop-Clinton candidate. He's accusing the former First Lady and her aides of being too close to Washington, which is hardly the most original line of attack to use in such a campaign, but seeing as Edwards is no longer a Senator and so doesn't work in Washington anymore, he's probably on fairly safe ground.
These people have been going round America giving speeches and glad-handing supporters and donors for more than a year, but only now, with the Iowa caucus a couple of months away, can we start to get a sense of how things are going to play out. The point to remember about primary elections, such as the Iowa caucus, is that winning isn't everything. It's all about doing better than expected. So even though Clinton's out in front in most polls, and has been throughout, doesn't mean Iowa will be a resounding triumph for her, even if she wins there.
As far as the Democrats go, it's Edwards who is the man to watch. Most of the campaign's been painted as a battle between Clinton and Barack Obama. So if in Iowa Obama finishes below second, it's just about all over for him, because he will be seen as losing ground - exactly what happened to Howard Dean when he finished a disappointing third in Iowa in 2004. Conversely, a second-place finish for Edwards would suddenly mean lots of publicity, new backers, pots of cash, and it would likely force Obama out of the face leaving him free to take Clinton on. Edwards knows this, and has spent much of his time and money on campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire in the hope a strong showing can force him into contention. The strategy's got a decent chance of working, as the most recent poll in Iowa puts him second, narrowly ahead of Obama.
If he does finish second in Iowa, and there are enough Democrats who would rather their nominee was 'anyone but Hillary' then Edwards could ride that sentiment right through to the nomination, and then possibly the White House. Clinton's a long way from having it in the bag.