Satisfying the nativists

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is taking grief for moving some of his Nevada staff to the more important state of Iowa, which has the nation’s first presidential delegate selection caucuses. Nevada’s caucuses follow five days later, though that may change. “Does this make any sense to anyone?” Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston asked. “Iowa may be moving up a week or 10 days, so Edwards needs to move people from Nevada, which is still shortly thereafter? I don’t think so.” But veteran campaign strategists say it makes perfect sense. All caucuses are not created equal, they say, and any serious candidate would choose Iowa over Nevada because of the Midwestern state’s longstanding role and stature in the winnowing-out process. A Nevada victory for Edwards would be meaningless if he lost Iowa. Even Bill Richardson, the candidate who has made a greater commitment to Nevada than any other, assigns greater importance to New Hampshire and Iowa. “The path to the presidency is through Iowa and New Hampshire,” Richardson has said. “I don’t see Nevada’s entrance in between, a caucus in a small Western state, as going to affect either one.”

Richardson, like Edwards, is having to negotiate the shoals of provincialism in the early states. The investment he’s made in Nevada has cost him points with New Hampshire’s quixotic newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, which doesn’t even want Richardson to campaign in Nevada. The newspaper considers it a betrayal of New Hampshire. After Richardson said, “The emphasis of the country, the national press, the electorate, is going to be on New Hampshire,” the Union Leader editorialized: “That’s awfully sweet of him. What he failed to do was pledge to campaign in New Hampshire instead of Nevada.” It’s sometimes difficult to remember that the process is about choosing the best leader, not about economic development for the states.