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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Two What-Ifs

The big what-if in the news today was in sports, when Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan scuttled back to Gainesville four days after penning a big-bux contract to go to the NBA’s Orlando Magic. This was a what-if not only for the Magic, but for the daisy-chain of hirings and openings that might have emerged in the college coaching ranks if Donovan had stuck with his decision to book.The best comment so far on this fiasco was by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn:

At a press conference to announce Billy Donovan’s hiring by the Orlando Magic last Friday morning, nearly 6,500 words were spoken by Donovan and general manager Otis Smith as they sat side-by-side on stools at the center of the team’s practice court. Buried in the final 300 words of the 45-minute ordeal was Smith’s smiling statement — in response to what Donovan’s first act as coach would be — that “we gave him the weekend off.””We’ll see him,” Smith said, “bright and early on Monday morning.”That, in retrospect, might have been a mistake.

Indeed. If the Magic had dragged Billy around central Florida to a series of publicity events and team meetings, it’s not clear he would have had time for the Dark Night of the Soul that apparently changed his mind. Or so we can speculate.But there was another “what if” story a bit further under the surface, in terms of the post mortems on Sunday night’s CNN Democratic presidential debate. What if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had not voted against the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill week before last? If they had gone the other way, there’s no question that John Edwards, with an assist from several other candidates, would have entered the debate as the avenging angel of antiwar Democrats, whose anger towards party members who voted for the supplemental has stayed white-hot. As it was, Edwards’ fiery sword of righteousness on the war pretty much flamed out Sunday night, reduced as he was to flailing away at Clinton and Obama for not casting their votes more noisily. The difficulty of his position was best illustrated by Obama’s quick rejoinder that Edwards’ own antiwar leadership was “four-and-a-half years too late.” And Edwards’ efforts to separate himself from Clinton and Obama by deriding the “war on terror” (accurate as it is with respect to the terminology involved) is politically perilous, to say the least. There’s been some talk, which is likely to pick up after the debate, that Edwards is struggling in the national polls, and in states like South Carolina and Florida where you would think he would have a bit of a regional advantage. I honestly don’t know how much all that matters: it’s generally conceded, even by the Edwards campaign, that he pretty much has to win the Iowa Caucuses to have a serious shot at the nomination. If he does win Iowa, he’s sure to get a big bounce elsewhere, and so far, he’s consistently doing better in polls in Iowa than in any other state. But it doesn’t look like he’s going to get a clear path to national preeminence by being the undisputed antiwar Democrat in the top tier.

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