How did Elizabeth Edwards become the most interesting spouse of the 2008 presidential campaign? As NBC News’s First Read puts it, “We knew it was possible that a spouse might become the story in this presidential race. But [we] thought it would be Bill, not Elizabeth Edwards.”

At Time’s Swampland blog, Joe Klein proposes “three possible theories about why Elizabeth Edwards is erupting with increasing frequency.” They are:

1. That’s just who she is. (I can attest to the veracity of this one, and love that quality in her.)
2. She’s in what-the-hell mode, given her chronic illness. (Who knows?)
3. Edwards is slipping in non-Iowa polls, slipping behind Bill Richardson in New Hampshire, and the campaign believes it’s time to start taking the front-runners down, using its most potent, bullet-proof cannon. (A real possibility.)

Can the shoot-from-the-hip appeal of Mrs. Edwards save Mr. Edwards’s campaign? He’s fallen to fourth place ­ behind No. 3, “No One” in the decidedly unofficial rankings of the Democratic field, written by Chuck Todd and Marc Ambinder for National Journal.

The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat thinks not. “Frankly, I’ve always thought that the media has given too much credit to Edwards — and in the process, artificially inflated his candidacy — by consistently lumping him in a ‘top three’ with Clinton and Obama,” Douthat writes. “He’s a one-term Senator with no significant constituency in his home region who didn’t exactly dazzle in his previous national audition - failing to capitalize on a broken-field chance at the nomination after Howard Dean imploded in the ‘04 primaries, and then failing to distinguish himself as John Kerry’s running mate in the fall.”

O.K., Ross, but tell us what you really think:

He has no foreign-policy experience whatsoever, and he admits to badly flubbing his biggest test on that front, the Iraq War authorization vote — a test, incidentally, that his similarly-inexperienced rival Obama passed with flying colors. And while his policy proposals may be admirably detailed, he’s preaching what often feels like a “war on poverty” populism to an electorate that seems to be looking for more of a Jim Webb-style “save the middle class” populism; his “wealth versus work” ‘04 campaign, ironically enough, seems like it would be better-suited to the present moment than the “lift-up-the-underclass” themes he’s emphasizing this time around.

Finally, he oozes smarm: He’s got all of Mitt Romney’s inauthenticity problems with hardly any of the substantive achievements. Everyone who’s met him or worked for him thinks the world of him, and no doubt he’s just as lovely as they say — but when he talks, I cringe. And to judge by the polls, I’m not alone.