Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, would lose badly to any of the top three Democratic presidential candidates, according to the latest CNN poll. He'd lose to Hillary Clinton by 10 points, to Barack Obama by 15, and by a whopping 25 points to former Senator John Edwards.
The fact that Edwards often comes out on top in the electability horse race ought to be as big a story as Huckabee's ascendance in the Republican field. This is only the latest poll to show Edwards beating potential Republican opponents by larger margins than Clinton or Obama. But Edwards's populist passion on the stump, hardworking campaign organization (especially in Iowa), and excellent general election poll numbers aren't getting him into the mainstream media. Why? Mainly because he refuses to accept special-interest money, working instead within the system of federal matching funds that the other major candidates have declined. Hence he doesn't have the budget for as much nationwide exposure as Clinton or Obama.
Part of Edwards's high poll numbers may simply stem from his having fewer negatives than the other top-tier Democrats. A lot of people, including important swing voters, don't like Hillary Clinton, for reasons that are at root primarily sexist. Obama, despite his star quality, faces a racial barrier, and many consider him insufficiently experienced. Edwards, however, is a white male Southerner, just like the last two successful Democratic presidential candidates.
Edwards is the most progressive of the top three Democrats, and his positions have populist appeal, in line with Democratic America, which, confronted with an enormous health care crisis and disgusted with the persistence of widespread poverty, is swinging generally leftward. Importantly, Edwards also gets points for sincerity, and the American electorate is serious about sincerity, as Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton are finding out to their dismay. (On the Republican side, Rudolph Giuliani has benefitted from being forthcoming about his rather wretched personal life and his support for liberal positions on social issues.)
In sum, Edwards has two big things going for him, and no major negatives except the big one: not enough money. Something is wrong with this picture, but we all knew that.