More accurately, the excitement generated around Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama leaves little room, according to the PEW analysis, for Edwards populist campaign to attract support from what should be its core constituency -- the poorest and most left/liberal/progressive element of the party.
What is unclear is what this means getting to election time and the massive crunch of caucuses and primaries, many of which include states with relatively low black representation among voters and where Edwards connections with organized labor and his southern background potentially confer an edge. Iowa has become a three-way tie. Edwards remains well behind in NH but has stopped recent reverses (which were primarily switches to Bill Richardson rather than Clinton or Obama). North Carolina and Nevada -- states where Edwards may have an edge -- follow soon after.
After that, however, the welter of primaries rapidly gives an edge to the two front-runners -- both of whom can far better afford to build campaigns in the major states.
As we gear up for the traditional primary campaign season post-labor day, it is still a wide open field with no clear favorites emerging. Obama and Clinton maintain a clear lead in national polls, with Richardson and Edwards making up a "second tier" that remains within striking distance (we may, I think, safely discount the rest of the Democratic pack).
Typically, the first few primaries sort out the field, leading to a cakewalk to the convention. This year, however, factors are coming together that raise the specter of a contested convention for the first time since the Dems adopted the post-68 rules. If Obama and Clinton end up splitting the major states, with Ricahrdson and Edwards capturing enough delegates to stay alive and deny either front runner a clear win in the first round of voting, it could turn into the kind of political convention reporters and political junkies live for and actual candidates and party big-wigs dread -- a convention that requires a real ballot among delegates to select a candidate.
Contrary to popular political wisdom, I think such a result would prove fantastic for the Dems. It would generate a huge amount of interest and excitement. It would also force the winner to adopt a position reflecting a genuine compromise among the disparate elements of the party -- particularly on economic issues. The traditional dance of the Democrats of pledging to protect traditional party planks such as abortion while staying vague on things like globalization and healthcare are not going to cut it in this crowd. Resolving an open nomination will require some tough decisions about critical economic issues, followed by selling the compromise back to the Democratic electorate.
Because with a real third party bid waiting in the wings, neither the Dems nor the Rs can count on brand loyalty or hatred of the other party as the grease that lubricates a compromise candidate. "To your tents, Oh Israel" is the response that awaits a presidential nominee that tells the losing factions "like it or lump it." And in year with no clear winner and both parties in disfavor with the electorate, neither party can afford to see a substantial segment of its supporters stay home.