If the speech I went to yesterday by Mike Huckabee presented the kinder gentler face of economic populism (with Republican characteristics), today’s Iowa City event with John Edwards offered the full-throated, full-throttle version.
By the time Edwards went on stage at the Holiday Inn this afternoon — the fog and mist these past few days has been playing havoc with travel schedules — the crowd, which seemed a fifty-fifty mix of the undecided and the already committed (including SEIU folks in purple T-shirts, UNITE in red and college students from New York, Michigan and Minnesota in for the final push) had been primed by the warm-up act of campaign workers and party and local elected officials for a red meat speech.
And, in a room that either by design or miscalculation was far too small for audience, John Edwards delivered. In case anyone who showed up wasn’t clear what the theme of the Edwards campaign is going into the final stretch, forty-five minutes of John Edwards later left little room for doubt or misunderstanding: John Edwards is fighting.
In fact, I literally lost count of the number of times Edwards talked about fighting Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and fighting “epic fights” at that — but I can assure you that the quality of the message discipline was not lost on the crowd.
He is fighting against “corporate greed”. He is fighting against “CEOs making hundreds of millions a year.” Against “drug companies”. Against “insurance companies.” Against “multinational corporations”. Against “oil companies”. Against “power companies”. I could go on, as he did, but I suspect you get the idea.
And he is fighting against a more general “them”, too. As John Edwards paints the world to Iowa voters, “They are everywhere. They are. And they are literally destroying the American Middle Class.
They are not concerned about you. . .We have to take these people on. . .America doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to us. . . And they won’t voluntarily give away their power. . .They will only give it away when we take it away. . .”
Even though no conversation about Edwards in Iowa these days seems to be complete without a discussion of how many square feet, exactly, his house really is, no one doubts his sincerity or what side of the barricades John Edwards, son of a mill worker, is on.
And the Edwards pitch also makes clear that he is fighting against Clinton and, perhaps even more right now, Obama. Edwards doesn’t just “talk the talk”, according to his surrogates, and when he says that Democrats “need someone to send into the arena who is ready to fight” it creates a ripple in the crowd, as does the shot, talking about healthcare, at anyone who might suppose that an inclusive approach to problem solving, gathering all the stakeholders together at the table, might work. As Edwards has it, you simply “can’t sit at a table with them.”
Going after Obama seems to be a tactical necessity right now for Edwards. He has deep reserves of support and goodwill in Iowa after close to five years of constant campaigning here, and although he trails the two front-runners in most polls he is far from out of it in what is by all appearances a tight three-way race. (Disclosure: For whatever it is worth, I am one of the 600 LV in the linked poll.)
And it also appears that there is a sizable pocket of voters who are, still, yo-yoing between Edwards and Obama. Based on my own far from scientific or systematic discussions over the past few weeks with a fair number of folks leaning either to Edwards or Obama, it seems that there are an awful lot of folks who come January 3 will support one or the other — and not Clinton — but that neither has yet been able to close the sale.
A key issue for these as yet undecided caucus goers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an issue hit on by both the introductory speakers and Edwards himself — is the elusive question of “electability”. In fact, while waiting for Edwards to get to the event, the campaign workers and local elected officials doing the warm-up act opened the floor for questions. No one asked about Iraq or health care or the economy. The only question from the crowd had to do with the latest polling numbers, and how Edwards and the other Dems stacked up in the possible general election head-to-heads with leading Republican candidates.
Whatever else Iowa’s Democratic caucusÃ¢â‚¬â€œgoers might do on January 3, they want to select someone who can clearly and unambiguously take the White House.
For those in the crowd who were already won over by Edwards — and for those not too far removed from the radical agrarian prairie populism of their grandparents and great-grandparents — Edwards’ pitch is pure political catnip. “If he goes to Washington he will give them hell!” one SEIU t-shirted campaign volunteer remarked to me, with clear and unbridled enthusiasm, after the speech wrapped up.
But for the rest of the crowd, it was a little more difficult to judge how effective Edwards was in winning them over. It seemed to me that an awful lot of the folks that walked into the room undecided walked out undecided, too. Which, I suppose, might be the bad news of the afternoon for Edwards. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of people that are still definitely listening to what he has to say. And with just twelve days to go and a large portion of the electorate just now deciding who to support that has got to be at least a cause for concern for Clinton.
— Michael Schiffer