In a presidential election week dominated by Hillary Clinton's new plan for universal health insurance coverage, the best news John Edwards got was ... Hillary Clinton's new plan for health insurance coverage. Mainly, because it underlined Edwards as the progressive driver in the Democratic field. Even the mainstream media, which see Clinton and Barack Obama as the frontrunners and frequently forget about Edwards, noted that Clinton's plan is a virtual copy of Edwards' from seven months ago. (And that Edwards was "flattered.") Also, that it's a step up from Clinton's earlier, more cautious stance that universal coverage would take her eight years as president to achieve.
Edwards' response: He'll fight for universal coverage, while Clinton will compromise it away (again) to the special interests, i.e., insurance companies. And if you don't believe me, Edwards said, look at the fundraiser she's holding right now (on Sept. 18) for $1,000 contributors and big-money bundlers (those bringing $25,000 in checks). The topic was homeland security, not health care, but the same principles apply, Edwards' campaign declared. Clinton's seeking money from lobbyists and corporate officials who want contracts with the Department of Homeland Security; in return, she's offering private meetings with members of the congressional committees that oversee DHS spending—members who also back Clinton.
Then Edwards was off to Des Moines to announce his latest "bold" plan, on education. It features universal pre-K and $15,000 bonuses for teachers in high-poverty schools. He was raising the progressive stakes, in other words.
Clinton's health plan helped Edwards in an even more critical way: By reminding voters that Obama's plan falls short of universal coverage, which sounded awfully weak in light of Clinton's—and her halo effect on Edwards.
Which brings us to the second-best news Edwards got: A string of Survey USA polls showing him the Democrats' strongest candidate against the Republican frontrunners in key swing states. Generally, Edwards wasn't that much stronger Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio. But there was a startling gap in Ohio between Edwards and Obama. Against Rudy Giuliani, for example, Edwards was a point behind; Obama 13 points behind. Against Mitt Romney, Obama trailed by 1; Edwards led by 20.
Edwards wants the Democratic campaign to be about who'll have the right stuff to lead a progressive movement, he or Clinton. So far, it isn't. It's change: candidate Obama versus the establishment Clinton(s). But if Obama's seen as weak, Edwards is next in line.