Letter from the Editor

Friday, July 20, 2007

Edwards and Iowa

Four hundred dollar hair-do, ten-bathroom mansion with its own indoor basketball court, fashionably faded Levis and all, John Edwards might be cooking up a surprise in Iowa.

He isn't really on the radar right now, as it's considered an Obama and Hillary show. Those two have the star power, they draw the big crowds and the TV cameras. Obama has $36 million and Clinton $45 million banked (impressive performances considering that John Kerry was considered obscenely well-heeled when he had raised a paltry $10 mill by 2nd quarter 2003.)

And now Edward has to beat both juggernauts in Iowa to have a prayer, in a fairly conservative state the Kerry/Edwards ticket couldn't wrestle out of the red in '04. And he would have to do it with the lingering pain and distraction of the loss of a 16-year-old son a decade ago and now the cancer diagnosis of his wife. And everybody jokes that he's a bit hypocritical for living a lavish Tom Cruise-esque lifestyle while poverty is his key issue.

On paper, it sure looks like Edwards has a snowball's chance, doesn't it?

So, here's why the snowball might just be our next president.

In Iowa at least, people don't really decide based on a particular issue - not even immigration, abortion or Iraq. They vote, ultimately, on trust.

While Clinton and Obama win adoration in urban rock star crowds, Edwards methodically connects with people, one small group at a time, often mining the rural areas many of the other candidates haven't bothered so much with.

Clinton and Obama ride a wave of celebrity, but celebrity can also be fickle and slippery. Just ask Howard Dean. (Who?)

When push comes to shove, will Iowa Democrats feel that Clinton can beat the Republicans? Or will they think she's a bit too - what would the word be, icy? Or that the lovey-dovey first couple approach feels just a little uncomfortable?

Will they feel Obama is the best bet to beat a GOP nominee - or will they fear that he has yet to develop the experience and depth of policy to bring home a general election?

Edwards, meanwhile, has made what - 30+ trips to Iowa? Here's here so much he should be paying taxes. In 2004, Iowa raised him out of nowhere to make him a contender second only to Kerry. He's close to being seen as one of us now. Having the blue oxford tucked into a pair of jeans doesn't seem to hurt.

And call me crazy, but so far this seems to be a war of substance, with candidates talking real issues instead of slinging mud and empty slogans. Imagine that.

Although he may not have yet fully explained how he would pay for all of his ambitious proposals, Edwards already has great detail and thought in his campaign issues, and they seem to be ones that should resonate with mid-America - rural development, health care, the environment, alternative fuels, improving education, jobs, helping the working poor.

While other politicans talked a good game, Edwards had his sleeves rolled up pounding houses back together in the ravaged Ninth Ward in New Orleans. While others appeared at lavish fundraising dinners, he was founding a volunteer organization called One Corps and developing a poverty center at the University of North Carolina. While others talked foreign policy, Edwards has, since announcing his campaign, honed his global understanding in China, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.

The tragic diagnosis of his wife, who is clearly an important partner in his efforts, only seems to lend a human element, a sense of realness and drama, a touch of urgency, to the campaign. He's no longer the chipper, earnest plastic Ken doll of 2003; in his most recent two Storm Lake appearances, at least, he has seemed more mature, forceful, wry, focused.

It is shaping up to be a long but fascinating presidential campaign, and we have only just begun. There are others who could emerge from the background - Richardson, Biden, Romney, Thompson, others. There is a promise of real issues to be examined here, not just one-liners and a war of personalities. This could be the race to get people enthused about politics - and voting - again.

Edwards has spend an extraordinary amount of time in Iowa because he knows he has to - more than others, it will make or break him. A win here would put him at least equal in attention with Clinton and Obama headed into the early contests in the other states clustering behind Iowa, and underline his electability.

Should he claim the nomination, he is a masterful speaker, charming, and would be an able debater against any likely opponent. A bit more conservative on issues like gay marriage than many of the Democrats, he has a chance of swinging some states that have been traditionally just out of Democrats' reach.

Consider - Kerry/Edwards won only the three west coast states, a handful of the small extreme northeast states, Hawaii, and a four-state island of the upper midwest in 2004. If Edwards could claim those same states - less than 20 - in '08, and swing either Ohio or Florida (which Bush landed by only a hair last election) and win only a single southern state (Edwards is from North Carolina), he could win the electoral college nod.

That snowball, then, is not such an extreme longshot as it might appear at the moment.

If his opponents have only the likes of Ann Coulter's inexplicable "faggot" slur, or the hypocrisy of a big house and an expensive haircut to hold against Edwards, they don't have much. When did success get to be a crime? Didn't we once admire people who pulled themselves up from very modest beginnings?

I'd like to compare local impressions of Edwards against both parties' front runners - but he's been here, twice; they haven't, yet.

Win or lose, Edwards is one candidate talking about rural issues and the looming problem of the working poor, sincerely and with passion. The campaign is better for having him.