Maybe a week ago I argued that Edwards ought to stay in the race through Feb. 5th and maybe longer, pick up a few hundred delegates, and use those delegates to buy himself whatever position he wants in an Obama administration. Now that I've looked around at some of the Feb. 5th polling data, I've come to change my mind.
Come Feb. 5th, Edwards low standing in the polls in some of largest states (CA, NY, NJ, etc.) could fall even farther. Indeed, it's hard to see how he can continue to argue that it's a three-person race after getting crushed in his home state, an occurrence which now looks all but inevitable. If his support on election day comes in around or under 15%, he'll be drastically underrepresented in delegates won. If that's the case, then it's pretty clear that he'd do better by progressive if he tried to shift his 10% of the vote to Obama instead of fighting a futile war to pick up a few delegates here and there. Certainly, there are a few states where his presence would be a net positive to Obama. Take Oklahoma, where recent polling shows the two white candidates dominating the vote. Edwards' presence in the race would serve to split that white vote and cut into Clinton's margin of victory over Obama (in terms of delegates). However, those states will be vastly outvoted by the states where Edwards could help Obama by dropping out.
I'm still not going to argue that Edwards should get out before Feb. 5th, or at least not until after South Carolina. He might have a shot in Nevada tomorrow, and I think an Edwards win there would hurt Clinton more than Obama (of course, a Clinton-Edwards-Obama finish could be detrimental. More importantly, he'll siphon off white votes in South Carolina, helping to ensure an Obama win there. If he finished third in Nevada and a distant third in South Carolina (which looks fairly likely) then I'll want him to drop out immediately. If, however, he surprises in either of those states and jumps up to the 18-20% range nationally, he should stay in and lock in that support in the form of delegates, which can be transferred to Obama more easily than percentage points in a poll.