Lights Dimmed but Not Out in Vegas

Last week when presidential Democratic candidate John Edwards decided to pull a handful of staffers from his Nevada office, it raised three questions: Is Edwards facing weak or waning support in the big union state? Is this a sign the campaign is suffering from pinched pockets? And is this more proof that Edwards is betting the farm on Iowa, as he bulks up staff in early nominating states?

Smack in the middle of his "Fighting for One America" bus tour through Iowa last week, it was revealed that Edwards was moving a few staffers from the Nevada office and placing them in the states with earlier nominating contests, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"I'm sure we'll continue to make adjustments of how many people we have in particular places depending on what the needs are at the moment, and we're going to compete very hard in Nevada," said Edwards in an interview with The Associated Press.

The staffing move was quickly criticized by many. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has played a major role in heightening the profile of his state in the Democratic presidential primary, issued a stern warning to Edwards saying, "any candidate who chooses to ignore Nevada and its rich diversity does so at their own peril."

We'll have to see if Reid is right as Nevada is rich with unions, a group that Edwards has tailored much of his populist campaign message toward. Pulling resources out of Nevada could mean pulling the plug on the support of unions, particularly the Culinary Workers Union, which is 60,000- strong in membership. Edwards, the candidate who is known to walk a picket line, is facing strong competition from his top rivals, who have also had success with pro-union rhetoric to Nevada.

Fellow presidential contender Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who nationally is polling fourth to Edwards and is in working doggedly to be tagged a "top-tier"candidate, seized an opportunity to take a shot at his competition.

"Sen. Reid is right, the road to White House runs through Nevada," he said. "Though other campaigns may waver, I remain committed to campaigning in Nevada."

The Edwards campaign characterizes the "Leaving Las Vegas" headlines as an exaggeration and say only a few staffers will be leaving Nevada and that people would be reassigned to the office as the campaign progresses.

"Our strategy is unchanged -- four states and $40 million," says Jonathan Prince, Edwards' deputy campaign manager. "As the calendar fluctuates, with Iowa and New Hampshire moving up significantly, we need to accelerate hiring there to hit our organizing targets, so we're shifting some trained staffers there, but we are as committed as ever to winning Nevada."

Still, with paid staffers leaving comes questions on campaign finances. Edwards has raised $23 million through June, compared with the $63 million raised by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and $59 million for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Both Clinton and Obama have plans to expand their operations in Nevada this year.

While Edwards' staffers argue that their candidate is running a national campaign -- it would be hard to disagree with the fact that there is a microscope on Iowa. Edwards has made nearly 30 visits to state since the 2004 election, more than any other presidential candidate. Having staffers moving into the state only adds to the theory that Edwards is betting a lot on Iowa.

A week after the staffing shift the Edwards campaign acknowledged the importance of avoiding a Nevada slight. A press release issued today by the campaign boasted that Edwards will be making his 12th visit to the state on Wednesday, which is by their count, more than any other presidential candidate. Edwards will tour the UNLV Solar Site where he will discuss his Green Collar Jobs plan.