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Iowa's Stealth Democratic Front Runner

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Message Sandy Jewell
Iowa's Stealth Democratic Front Runner
Sandy Jewell

In a November, 2003, poll, commissioned and reported by the Des Moines Register, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina was projected to receive 5% of the vote of Iowa's Democratic caucuses. Two months later, in January 2004, he received 32%, setting the stage for his appearance as John Kerry's vice presidential running mate and making him a true political phenomenon, one that had somehow escaped most media attention leading up to the caucuses. In fact, if you got your news from national broadcasts, you may not have caught it at all. Then, the media spotlight faded as suddenly as it arrived. Edwards, who had declined to run as an incumbent for his senate seat while running for president, vanished from Washington's media bubble and seemed to pass into history along with the November, 2004, election.

Well, here we are several years later and little has changed. John Edwards remains a political wonder and the media remain generally oblivious - except in Iowa. The Democrats whose votes counted first in 2004 still like Edwards. A Des Moines Register poll in September showed Edwards with astonishing favorable ratings: 54% among all likely voters and 85% among Democrats. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, the currently anointed national front runner, was viewed unfavorably by 49% of all likely voters, helping to calcify her status as a polarizing figure with limited general appeal and highly problematic prospects of election to any higher office.

John Edwards' campaign for the White House has so far been a political case study. Flying beneath the radar, simultaneously ignoring conventional wisdom, the DLC, the media, and the courtship of large donors, he has carried forward from the 2004 contest a loyal organization, a well liked persona, and a compelling populist campaign based on political rarities: empathy, independence, and a coherent, principled worldview. When his PAC went into the red helping Katrina victims, and after he showed up as the first and most vocal Democrat to campaign for Connnecticut's Ned Lamont, it began to look as though there was no detectable daylight between his beliefs, words and actions. He spends precious little time disparaging rivals and seems determined to campaign as an adult.

The former senator has been deftly shoring up support far beyond the charm-and-hug offensive in Iowa and gets rock-star receptions from ordinary Americans everywhere he goes. It's easy to see why. Since he isn't courting corporate donors, he doesn't have to bother with soft pedaling serious issues or the triangulation that seems to have become part of the DNA of Democratic politicians. He supports universal health care, energy independence, public funding of election campaigns, making college more generally available, and he has reasonably coherent plans for achieving his vision. Since 2004, he has even become something of an expert on foreign policy.

Support for the labor movement has given Edwards celebrity status among groups that politicians typically disdain - those without deep pockets. He helped organize hotel workers from Hawaii to Nevada (Nevada, by the way, is the first caucus state in 2008, before Iowa); he has walked with union members on picket lines, and no less an authority than Teamster president Jim Hoffa refers to him as a friend. He spoke at the AFL-CIO convention, has given his support to the United Mine Workers, and, if you can believe his audacity, made a mortal enemy of world's largest retailer, owned by the world's richest people, WalMart, for his outspoken support of union activity and better benefits in their shop.

Does John Edwards have a chance at the presidency? It remains an open question whether any Democrat can win against faulty voting machines, corrupt officials and a Republican sponsored climate of anything-goes election fraud. There is good forensic evidence indicating that the last two presidential elections belonged to Democrats, but it was swept under the rug by the current gaggle of Democratic featherweights in Congress in collusion with their partners in the arrogant and scornful Washington echo chamber.

It seems apparent that John Edwards' opponents in his battle for the presidency will include his own party as well as the media. But there's yet another major adversary.

The current owners of America, corporations, can be expected to do everything possible to protect their golden goose in Washington by derailing Edwards' candidacy, much as they have done to Ned Lamont. Connecticut polls show that Lamont is likely to lose big to Joe Lieberman on November 7, compliments of the subversive generosity of Corporate America, AIPAC and other special interest groups. So much for the will of Democratic primary voters.

But Edwards might be able to pull it off anyway. Unlike the well-meaning but unapproachable patricians Al Gore and John Kerry, John Edwards seems to have a solid gut level connection to the working and middle classes. If any one person can inspire a popular revolt against election day shenanigans, it might be him.

John Edwards may be our last, best, shot at restoring to the U.S. a semblance of our parents' and grandparents' democracy. He'll need all the help he can get.
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Sandy Jewell lives in Georgia.
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