COMMENTS: Goodbye Edwards, Farewell Giuliani

The upshot of Tuesday's Republican primary in Florida was the designation of John McCain as his party's frontrunner. He beat Mitt Romney in Florida and then received third-place finisher Rudolph Giuliani's endorsement as he folded his candidacy. Giuliani called McCain "the most qualified candidate to be the next Commander-in-Chief" and "an American hero." The Story of the Day, however, was another withdrawal from the race, by Democratic third-place candidate John Edwards. Edwards' pullout was more newsworthy because it was not anticipated. ABC and NBC led with Edwards. CBS led with McCain.

The timing of Edwards' withdrawal "seems odd," mused CBS' Jim Axelrod, "if only because he repeatedly said he was staying through Super Tuesday." On the other hand, Edwards went "0-for-4 in primaries and caucuses" and was "behind in cash and delegates." ABC's David Muir (embargoed link) found Edwards "frustrated" at having to match up against "celebrity candidates" Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now the demographic of the Democratic nominee is certain to be--unprecedentedly--not white male: "It is time for me to step aside and let history blaze its trail," Edwards conceded.

CBS' Axelrod offered Edwards kudos for often setting the policy agenda for the Democratic contest, "pushing for universal healthcare and restraints on lobbyists." Axelrod and Muir were on hand in New Orleans as Edwards underscored his signature theme of eliminating poverty by ending his campaign at a Katrina-devastated construction site in the Ninth Ward. Instead of endorsing either of his erstwhile rivals "for now Edwards is testing both on their pledge to his cause," noted NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

Sans such endorsement, who benefits from Edwards' withdrawal? NBC's Lee Cowan told his colleague Mitchell that the spin from the Obama campaign is that Edwards' base consists of voters who were already familiar with Rodham Clinton but decided not to support her. By that logic, their next choice would be anyone but Hillary.

CBS News' polling guru Kathy Frankovic told Jeff Greenfield that Edwards supporters tend to be less well-educated, less well-off white voters. Greenfield envisaged a split of Edwards' support with liberal populists in states like California siding with Obama, working class whites in the heartland siding with Rodham Clinton. ABC's George Stephanopoulos also foresaw a benefit for Rodham Clinton in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee. NBC's Mitchell disagreed. Her Super Tuesday calculus had Rodham Clinton succeeding in New York, New Jersey, California--plus Arkansas; Obama strong in Illinois, Georgia, Alabama--plus Kansas. NBC's Tim Russert saw Super Tuesday stalemate on the Democratic side because proportional representation rules prevent either candidate from scoring a decisive victory. Their race "is going to go on at least until early March."


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