I’ve hesitated to mention anything about this today, and so have (as far as I can tell) every major print and broadcast news outlet. But it has spread across the internet, raising the possibility that it could impact John Edwards’ campaign in the home-stretch in Iowa.
At issue: An accusation involving Edwards’ personal life from the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid that has been successfully sued for libel and that cited just one anonymous source in making the charge.
Edwards and the other person allegedly involved both deny it. The Enquirer claims that the person originally told an “extremely close” acquaintance about the matter and suggests that the Edwards campaign has arranged to cover it up. The paper offers no proof of this; just conjecture. This isn’t the first time the Enquirer has written about Edwards and his alleged involvement with this person.
It should go without saying that the entire story could be garbage: Just ask Carol Burnett how these things go.
But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot at stake here. We are also just over two weeks from Iowa, a contest that will decide whether Edwards continues as a candidate. He is very much in the running there, but seems to have fallen off the pace set by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – 13 points behind the leader in a new ABC News poll.
Edwards has considerable support in Iowa (he’s practically lived there the last few years, after all) but he also has been squeezed out a bit by Hillary and Barack. My sense is that, all things being equal, there are quite a few Democrats who would prefer Edwards – but who don’t see him as quite the viable option that the other two are.
In the big picture, I have a feeling the Enquirer story won’t develop much from here. Everyone involved is denying it, so there doesn’t seem to be any way for the tabloid to prove anything. In a sense, it’s like the brief flare-up about John Kerry and an alleged affair in 2004. He and the woman vehemently denied it and it went away.
On the other hand, this story is being aggressively hawked by Matt Drudge. And while the Kerry story came out after he’d pretty much sewn up the Democratic nomination, Edwards right now is the underdog, fighting to convince Democrats he’s every bit the contender that Clinton and Obama are. Something like this can only complicate that effort. The question is, how badly?
[This post was modified from an earlier version.]