Edwards racks up more Dem endorsements from House

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has racked up 12 endorsements from House Democrats, including all seven Democrats from North Carolina, putting him in second place in the race for congressional backing among presidential contenders.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has won 19 endorsements and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also has won 12. But Edwards is the first candidate to win unanimous support from Democrats in his or her home-state delegation.

In addition to the seven North Carolina Democrats, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Bart Stupak (Mich.), Charles Gonzalez (Texas) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) have also endorsed Edwards, a one-term senator first elected in 1998 who was selected as the vice presidential nominee in 2004.

Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.), who rallied his colleagues in 2004 to persuade Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to choose him as his running mate, sent a letter to Democratic National Committee members in February touting Edwards’s efforts “to end poverty in America.”

“I’m a big Edwards fan,” Wynn said yesterday. “But there’s no formal endorsement.”

Before there was a primary system, when party bosses picked presidential candidates in smoked-filled rooms, congressional endorsements were crucial. They remain important today, but for different reasons. 

“Congressional endorsements are an early indicator of political support and viability,” said Tony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College. “It’s one of the first steps to building a political leadership structure that a candidate can rely on in the primaries.”

Almost all lawmakers will be super-delegates at the nominating conventions. But the winning candidate likely will have wrapped up the nomination well before the convention, so their votes won’t have a direct impact.

“The endorsements are largely important for the help they can provide for developing political support within states, more so than the votes they cast at the convention,” Corrado added.

Among Democrats, the most closely watched lawmakers include Democrats from the early-voting caucus and primary states: Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes from New Hampshire, the three Iowa House Democrats, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada.

Some lawmakers, including Reid and Berkley, have opted to stay neutral until their party has a nominee.
Certain legislators can avoid the courtship process from other presidential candidates if they endorse their hometown favorites; most New Yorkers and Illinoisans have endorsed Clinton and Obama, respectively.

Edwards has been campaigning for president literally since the 2004 campaign ended. Last week, he sent a six-minute video where he talks about his healthcare plan to 70,000 Iowa caucus-goers. The mailer demonstrates that he has built an impressive database of voters in the state that will cast the first vote for president.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll taken last week showed Clinton and Obama leading Edwards, 40 to 28 to 15 percent, respectively. But a Strategic Vision poll showed Edwards leading both Clinton and Obama by six points, 24 to 18 percent.  

 Clinton and Obama have locked up most of their respective state delegations. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has seven endorsements from three Connecticut Democrats, as well as from Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Outside of the North Carolinians, endorsements of Edwards span the ideological spectrum.

Grijalva is an unabashed liberal while Stupak, a former state trooper, is one of a few Democrats who belonged to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Grijalva, who endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004, said he was impressed with Edwards’s work last year to help pass a minimum wage initiative in Arizona and his emphasis on universal health insurance, anti-poverty efforts and withdrawal from Iraq.

“As a presidential candidate, he’s talking about issues that are uncomfortable, but it’s a good discomfort,” Grijalva said.

 Stupak, too, is impressed with Edwards’s commitment to enacting universal healthcare and combating poverty.
“For Americans who feel disenfranchised, it is John Edwards who continues to stand with the poor, unemployed, and homeless … He continues to stand with workers as they seek to organize,” Stupak wrote in a letter released last month.

The Hill’s website tracks all lawmaker endorsements in the 2008 race for the White House