State Senate President Richard Codey today said if presidential candidate John Edwards comes in third in the Nevada primary on Jan. 19th, he would consider backing either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama in advance of the New Jersey primary on Feb. 5th.
“If he comes in third, he may be gone,” said Codey, who is Edwards’ New Jersey campaign chairman. “I’ve been getting calls from both sides (the Clinton and Obama campaigns).”
Both Clinton’s and Obama’s camps admit Codey would be a big plus.
“He is particularly important because of the unique role he occupies, not just because of his popularity but because of how respected he is,” said Clinton spokesman Brendan Gilfillan. “We’re reaching out aggressively regardless of what happens in Nevada and South Carolina.”
“He’s a natural endorser for us,” said Mark Alexander, state director for the Obama campaign. “He cares about the same things we care about. In a lot of ways he’s been a progressive leader in New Jersey. And we have our office in his district.”
The former New Jersey governor initially picked Edwards in part because they hit it off when Edwards was the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2004. But his main reason for backing the former North Carlina senator was strategic.
“He’s a guy who can keep core Democrats and also potentially win every southern state,” said Codey. “His problem is that Clinton and Obama are celebrity candidates. Sometimes it’s just timing in life. Edwards could’ve been the anti-Hillary candidate, but Obama just came out of nowhere.”
Codey said the fact that Obama and Clinton split wins in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively still gives Edwards a shot.
But it’s do or die in Nevada, as far as Codey’s concerned. A Reno Gazette-Journal poll of 500 likely caucus goers this week shows Obama at 32%, Clinton at 30%, and Edwards at 27%.
“There’s no clear cut favorite there,” said the senate president.
Codey said he had wanted to stump for Edwards in New Hampshire prior to the primary, as he did for Sen. Bill Bradley in the 2000 primary, but senate duties, including a critical debate on the school funding formula and reorganization day, kept him at home.
Regarding Clinton and Obama, Codey still has questions about both candidates. He’s wary of Clinton’s high negatives in a general election, and he questions Obama’s relative lack of experience.
Warren County Democratic Chairman Mike Sedita, another Edwards supporter, said he hopes Edwards stays in the race, even if her performs poorly in Nevada.
“I would like to see him go forward so that he can influence the debate with his emphasis on middle class issues,” Sedita said. “Hopefully he can influence the debate if nothing else.”
But with less than three weeks to go before the New Jersey primary, he acknowledged that not much is happening on the ground here.
“We’ve let his campaign take the lead on that,” Sedita said. “I don’t what they’re planning. I know some people have gone to New Hampshire and have done some call banking.”
State organizer Mike Beson said he has helped coordinate about 100 volunteers statewide with Codey’s help.
“The problem is money,” said Beson. “It’s difficult to get a message out there, but you never know what could happen.”
The Democratic organizersaid he believes Edwards should remain in the race through Feb. 5th regardless of what happens between now and then.