10 Reasons to Vote for Edwards

Supporters of John Edwards--and those people thinking of becoming supporters--might be wondering why they should the candidate deemed doomed by the MSM. Here's why.

By Voting for Edwards, you...

Reward and advance progressivism.
We can argue about candidates' voting records and try to gauge their instincts, but there's no question that Edwards has run the most progressive campaign. The proof is plentiful. He's embraced unions, the blogosphere, and the progressive movement as a whole. The stated and demonstrated rationale is to fight economic injustice; rhetorically and substantively, he's run the most populist presidential campaign in years. On every major issue--taxes, climate change, health care, foreign policy, trade, you name it--he's embraced policies more progressive than his rivals. He alone rejects nuclear power and the Global War on Terror frame. He alone opposes expanding the NAFTA model to South America. He alone has called on the Democratic Party to do what he's done his entire career: say no to K-Street cash. The better a progressive campaign does, the stronger progressivism becomes. To vote for Edwards is to increase the chance that progressivism becomes dominant in the party and the country.

Pull the race to the left.
There may not be a blogger, pundit, or publication that hasn't recognized the influence of Edwards. Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Dean Baker, Robert Bosorage, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jonathan Tasini, Jonathan Singer, Matt Ygelsias, The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Rolling Stone (among many others: they all point out the obvious: that Edwards has tugged the race to the left. And should he remain a factor in the race he'll continue to do so. To cite just on concrete example, the McCain-Lieberman global warming bill (better known as the great corporate giveaway of 2008) may come to the Senate floor during the race. With Edwards having announced his early opposition to it, Obama (who originally sponsored the bill) and Clinton will have little choice but to vote against it. Recently Edwards used his platform to make the homelessness of vets a topic of national discussion and this week he'll travel to New Orleans to give a speech about poverty. Remember New Orleans? Neither Obama nor Clinton have been talking about it much. I have a feeling they will be soon, though.

Preserve the possibility of (an unlikely) victory.
There are several elaborate scenarios by which Edwards could capture the nomination. Some involve the implosion of one or both of the other candidates. Others involve buyers' remorse combined with JRE's resiliency and the respect it engenders. Others involve a surprise victory in Oklahoma next week. Others involve potential Edwards strength in the March 4th states of Texas and Ohio. Others involve the prospect of a McCain nomination and a renewed focus on electability. Others involve a deadlocked convention at which Clinton or Obama agrees to back Edwards in return for the VP slot. Make no mistake, an Edwards victory is highly unlikely, but if you don't believe in long shots, why bother being a progressive?

Make Edwards kingmaker (or platform editor).
The more delegates he wins, the more power Edwards will have to shape the race and the party's identity. He could perhaps swing his support to the candidate more willing to embrace progressive policies or rewrite the party's platform to include stronger anti-poverty and pro-labor measures. Who knows? Maybe he'd even force the party to commit to refusing K-Street cash. One can dream.

Reject the self-fulfilling nominating system driven by polls, pundits, and money.
There's something disturbing, Orwellian, and tautological about the notion that Edwards can't win because pundits say he can't win. A relative few have voted. Until someone wins anyone can win. Do you want to uphold such an regressive system that effectively lets the media and the establishment choose our choices. Do you want to be another brick in the wall or part of the bulldozer the knocks the wall down? Over at Daily Kos, Bruce McF has been doing a great job making the philosophical and political case for supporting Edwards. Our current system of picking out leaders is self-fulfilling, but so is populism. Listen to Bruce:

Populist movements don't build themselves, they grow from a process of people learning how to support a series of populist campaigns in a populist way, rather than as passive consumers of candidates produced and marketed to win the greatest market share in the electoral marketplace.

It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Sign on to a movement
His message isn't going away, nor is his core of support. His core of support may evolve into an organization, a more powerful version of PDA, which grew out of the Kucinich campaign. In any case, his online and real world supporters will continue to organize and agitate, to fight both corporate Republican and Democrats.

Increase the likelihood of a meaningful convention, which would be good for Democrats.
Don't believe the lie that it's essential for the party to settle on a nominee early. Drama creates interest creates viewers created voters. If the convention were an actual event rather than a choreographed variety show, ratings would go through the roof. That can only be good for the party.

Piss off the establishment.
Pundits and the party power structure want Edwards to go away, not least because he's John Edwards. You have a great chance to piss them off; what else, really, do you need to know?

Do something good for your soul.
If you take to his message of economic justice and enlightened populism, maybe you should say so with a vote. Maybe if you're inclined to support him you should vote for him precisely because you're inclined to do so. Maybe there's something healthy and soul-enriching about voting for the candidate you like the most. Maybe it's better, cleaner, to vote affirmatively rather than strategically.

Come Up with Your Own Reason (I ran out of time but didn't want to change the title)

There's more...

Edwards Differentiates + Lux Obfuscates

I'm glad to see the Edwards campaign making a bigger effort to highlight the differences between him and his rivals. Here are videos contrasting him with Clinton and Obama on electability, trade, and lobbyists. (I'd like to see additional ads pointing out the Edwards is the only one of the leading candidate to reject nuclear power and the Bush's GWOT frame.) And a memo released yesterday articulated his argument against Obama and Clinton.

The lesson out of New Hampshire is that while the media have anointed two celebrity candidates, both are deeply flawed.  Senator Clinton, we've known for a long time, is plagued with questions over electablility and continues to defend the status quo in Washington. Senator Obama's weakness was revealed Tuesday night: voters want a fighter. If Obama was thrown-off by Clinton's attacks last week week, that's nothing compared to what Republicans will throw at the nominee this fall. If Obama is too weak to stand up to Republicans, and Clinton is too corporate to offer voters real change, Democrats will seek a nominee who not only stands for change but who actually shows some fight.

This is pretty good, as far as it goes. But it's general. One of the odd things about the Edwards campaign is that although he'd led on policy, although he's put out a truckload of bold, detailed proposals, he hasn't made a big effort to highlight the differences between his platform and those of Obama and Clinton. On the one hand, this makes sense: voters don't make decisions based on two points of a ten-point plan. But specifics are needed as evidence for the philosophical and strategic case he makes above.

What does it means that Clinton is too corporate? It means that she supports the Peru Free Trade agreement and other NAFTA-style trade pacts. What does it mean that Obama isn't a fighter? It means that as president he would leave Bush's tax cuts for the rich in place until 2011.

I'd like to focus on that last point, because it's an important, horrendous position of Obama's that's gotten little attention. Unlike Edwards (and I believe Clinton: I've seen conflicting reports) who would roll back Bush's tax cuts for the rich, Obama would let them expire (scroll to bottom).

The additional revenue needed to fund the up-front investments in technology and to help people who cannot afford health insurance is more than covered by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for people making more than $250,000 per year, as they are scheduled to do.

The tax cuts for the rich were the centerpiece of Bush's regressive domestic agenda, but Obama wouldn't even move to roll them back. Why not? Does he buy the rightwing argument that a roll-back would hurt the economy? Does he fear the charge that he's a tax-raiser? Progressive minds wants to know.

What's worse, as you can see from the blockquote above, Obama would use the renevue from the expired tax cuts to fund his health care plan. The money wouldn't be available to 2011. Would he wait till then to push for health care reform? Or would he present a plan early, to be funded with money that's not yet available? Either way his moderation on tax policy would threaten the chance of health care reform. I'd love to see Edwards turn to Obama in tonight's debate and say:

Senator Obama, you say you represent change, yet you wouldn't even do anything to roll back Bush's tax breaks for the richest people in the country. What kind of change is that?

I don't think I'm the only Edwards supporter who's been frustrated by his decision not to aggressively challenge Obama. Edwards seems to genuinely prefer Obama and his reform message to Clinton and her corporate-sponsored New Liberalism. Fair enough. The only problem is that Obama is, as Paul Krugman says, less progressive than his rivals on domestic policy.

Edwards should by all means continue to critique Clinton for her indefensible defense of a broken system, but he should also critique Obama for positions that undercut his claim to bold change. On health care for example: Edwards should point out and keep pointing out that Obama doesn't have a plan for universal coverage. Obama has done a good job of clouding the issue by demonizing mandates, but the fact remains: his plan would leave millions of people uninsured. How to highlight this in the debate? Maybe like this:

Senator Obama, you say that under your health care plan, everyone would choose to get insurance. Yet all the health care policy experts say otherwise. They say some 15 million people wouldn't get insured under your plan. What evidence do you have that they experts are wrong?

Most voters around the country are just tuning in, and there's a chance to educate them. But if Edwards doesn't work to explain why he's more progressive than the other two, then people will buy the claim pushed by both the MSM and the sphere that the positions of the candidates are all the same. If people don't understand the differences between Edwards and his rivals, they'll vote for the celebrities.

--------------

Why did Edwards "only" finish second in Iowa? Mike Lux--a Hillary admirer who predicted that Edwards would fade and maybe finish below Richardson--has an answer: he was too angry! In any early entry for worst "liberal" blog post of the year, he writes:

I think the problem has been that the anger is the only thing that voters were hearing. The lesson of the Edwards failure to me is that anger alone is not enough: that we have to combine the righteous anger we feel with telling people about the new ideas we have. Edwards had produced a bunch of great policy papers earlier in the campaign, but his core message in debates and advertising felt like it was all about the anger. If we can give people a sense of how we are going to change things and solve problems, and combine it with our anger at injustice, then we can win elections.

Never mind that he beat the most famous woman in the world.
Never mind that Obama spent more money on TV in Iowa than Mitt Romney.
Never mind that he by most accounts won the DMR debate by focusing on his "fighting" message.
Never mind that he rose in the polls as his populism sharpened.
Never mind that his surge was stopped by the DMR's self-fulfilling outlier poll, which vastly overestimated the number of independents who ended up voting.
Never mind that the populace is angrier than at any time in recent memory.
Never mind that a healthy majority thinks Big Business has too much power in Washington.
Never mind that the press virtually ignored him.
Never mind that his hardcore populism is just about the only thing that got him attention.
Never mind that he didn't do enough to distinguish himself from Obama.
Never mind that he was hurt by the haircut stories.
Never mind that he would have won in a cycle that didn't feature celebrity candidates.
Never mind that his opponents are skilled pols.
Never mind that Lux and others pushed the idea that public financing made him non-viable.
Never mind the only people who think Edwards is angry are political opponents and journalists.
Never mind that Lux is using an Obama-Dodd-GOP talking point against Edwards.
Never mind that Lux mistakes outrage for anger.
Never mind that by portraying Edwards as angry Lux is stigmatizing populism.
Never mind that it's long been a practice of the establishment to depict threats to the status quo as "emotional" or "unbalanced" or "angry."
Never mind that Edwards bombarded people with mail detailing his policy proposals.
Never mind that he talked about those proposals in the hundreds of speeches he gave.

No, the problem was that Edwards conveyed too much anger. Please read Lux's entire post and tell me if there's any way to conclude that he's not an establishment hack. And think about this post next time the MSM depicts a populist as angry.

There's more...

The Power of Truth

For all the bullshit in politics, truth matters. Voters know it when they hear it. Politicians look different when they speak it. Packaged the right way by the right person, truth prevails. Sometimes.

John Edwards is basing his campaign on a two-part truth: Big Business has too much power, and it won't give it away without a fight. The first part is self-evident. You can, like Obama, argue against the second, but to do so requires you to ignore history, common sense, and core tenets of capitalism.

Edwards is riding this truth to stay competitive in a race against two mega-celebrities. At every stop, he persuasively argues that he, and he alone, is capable of fighting the requisite "epic battle." It's the People v. Corporate Power, whose influence on our government he doesn't even bother to present as anything but malign. This is hardly a departure for Johnny Populist, but his message has sharpened; it's shed all rhetorical fat. His speeches contain no conditionals or qualifications. He's the anti-Kerry.

There's a word that's increasingly popping up in his speeches, a word with decisively Christian overtones that helps to explain why his political appeal is often lost on elites. The word is greed. Edwards is crusading against not only oil companies and HMOs but one of the seven deadly sins. There are different ways to preach values. Watch out, Gordon Gecko.

Corporate greed and the very powerful use their money to control Washington and this corrupting influence is destroying the middle class.

He has, as John Nichols says, the right message at the right time. According to Gallup, the least popular institutions in the country are HMOs, Big Business, and Congess. Or consider this, from Democracy Corps:

If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country, we have not witnessed it...When you ask in a national survey the 70 percent who say the country is off on the `wrong track' what underlying developments they are thinking about, they point to three inter-related themes, fully consistent with the more emotional response of the groups: big business getting whatever they want in Washington, leaders forgetting the middle class and America doing nothing about problems at home.

Of course, we don't need pollsters to tell us that the time is ripe for hard-edge populism, not after seven years of George Bush and, for that matter, forty years of increasing economic inequality, plus NAFTA, the Washington Consensus, Vodoo Economics, Enron, Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, the gutting of OSHA, Blackwater, Cintas, Nataline Sarkisyan---if John Edwards didn't exist, some political consultant would have to create him. He's the only candidate (with the exception of Ron Paul) who's speaking to the justified outrage and sense of betrayal permeating the public.

----------

I've long hoped that influential bloggers would take up sides in the primary because active support from the sphere increases its relevancy, and because I figured that Edwards would be the primary beneficiary of endorsements. In the past week, both Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller have said they're rooting for Edwards. Though neither offered exactly a ringing endorsement, each recognizes what's increasingly clear: whatever his flaws, Edwards offers the best hope for a progressive revival. Here's Stoller:

Only Edwards has put forward an aggressive populist message, one conducive to the partisanship we need.  And while he has no strong political accomplishments and I'm not sure he'd run a good general election campaign, he's succeeding somehow in Iowa with almost no media focus and a deep hostility from DC (marked by his fundraising circles, which unlike those of Clinton and Obama are entirely driven by non-DC sources).  That is admirable, even if I don't fully understand how he's doing it.

But Stoller already answered his own question: How's he doing it? His "aggressive populist message."

----------

Happy New Year. There's only year left in which George Bush can destroy humankind. Let's not let him.

There's more...

A Debate Edwards Has to Love

Interesting how races develop. After a thousand rhetorical skirmishes, the defining battle concerns who and how to best effect change. It's actually a good, substantive debate. As summed up by Atrios:

Obama: The system sucks, but I'm so awesome that it'll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we're gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

Atrios is probably too nasty to Obama--he's not quite that self-aggrandizing--and too kind to Clinton--she doesn't think the system sucks--but, in any case, it's a debate Edwards has to love. Who, in a democratic primary, wouldn't want to be the fighter, as opposed to the compromiser and the corporatist--uh, I mean, hard worker.

Well, everybody on this stage has an idea about how to get change. Some believe you get change by demanding it, some believe you get it by hoping for it. I believe you get it by working hard for change.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, with Edwards still in the thick of the race. Clinton and Obama had planned to out-spend and out-celebrity him into oblivion. The best paid plans.

Many people within the Clinton and Obama campaigns never expected Edwards' support in Iowa to remain this strong. The fact that it has is a testament to the time he has spent in the state and the level of connection that many in the Hawkeye State feel toward him and his message of "the people versus the powerful."

But it's clear now that Edwards will be a serious threat to the end. So Clinton and Obama have to try to tap into his support, which, by most accounts, is increasing.

The Obama camp, for its part, is trying a two-pronged, self-contradicting line of attack. On the one hand, they say JRE's strategy--fighting corporate power--is misguided.

If you put forward a plan that that overlooks insurance companies, it's really hard to understand how you are going to execute it without talking to them. And that's really what Sen. Edwards is saying. We're going to have private insurance companies in my plan but we're not going to talk to them because they are evil and they're bad.

On the other hand, they say Edwards didn't always fight corporate power:

Sen. Edwards, who is a good guy -- he's been talking a lot about, 'I am going to fight the lobbyists and the special interests in Washington.' Well the question you have to ask is: Were you fighting for'em when you were in the Senate. What did you do?

This line of criticism on Edwards has a problem larger even than its inherent contradiction. Obama's chief advisor testified to JRE's toughness on corporate special interests in 2004.

Washington is run by the special interests today ... John Edwards ran headlong into it when he led the fight for the patients bill of rights against the insurance industry in the Senate. He has never taken a dime from lobbyists or PACs. He said, let's ban lobbyist money, so you can't give people a bill to pass in the day and a check at night. And that's how we're going to start changing the culture in Washington.

JRE's reputation for toughness on corporate power was well-established when Obama was still a state senator.

[...I]n the Senate, Edwards was willing to stand up on a number of anti-corporate issues more so than most Democrats. It's the reason that not just Ralph Nader has kind words for him but also people like Ted Kennedy and remember, internally within the Kerry campaign, Ted Kennedy was advocating for Edwards. Because he saw Edwards as a gutsy guy who is willing to take on some bigger issues and to do some rough stuff with it.

And it's worth pointing out, because Edwards himself wisely does, that the kind of politics he's preaching derives directly from his previous profession. This should be easy to understand.  

It is a failure of political reporting that those legal cases are rarely evaluated as anything but potential attack ads. The stories, people, and corporations Edwards came into contact with amounted to a searing, visceral course in old-style populism.

Think of it this way: Hillary Clinton's caution and political savvy are obvious products of an adult life spent entirely in politics, the last 15 years or so on the national stage. Barack Obama's broad appeal and talent for consensus building are not unexpected traits in a former community organizer. So what does spending decades confronting the grievous, heartbreaking damage done to individuals and families by powerful, profit-driven corporations do to a man?

"Every single day," says Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, "what he saw were good people, in great need, who were being mistreated by big corporations -- corporations that knew that they had done wrong, and often insurance companies that were taking a calculated risk going to trial. ... If you took that person, a person who chose that as his life, you would end up with the politics that he's talking about today.

.

So Edwards is, in short, mighty comfy in this debate, and it shows. In fact, this is the very debate he's long wanted, and it dates back to what I believe to be the turning point of his campaign--the moment he found the perfect way to articulate the fundamental difference between him and his rivals.

There's more...

Edwards and Obama

The other night in a Manhattan bar, I was with a group of Democrats--smart, political but not politically active Democrats. They were all, I discovered, Obama leaners. They didn't love him but they liked him. Why, I asked. He's something new. What do you mean? I asked. He'll change things. How so? He's black. That's a good reason to support him, I said, and I meant it. He's eloquent, someone said. Definitely, I said. Two people said they felt much better about Obama because he'd been blessed by Frank Rich.

Oy.

It's been quite an achievement, convincing voters that you're an agent of bold change without proposing bold change, selling yourself as a bold truthteller without telling any bold truths. But then most voters don't do a lot of reading or research, much less deep thinking. Elections are won on impressions, feelings, vibes, and if people think Obama represents change, then he does.

Granted, Obama isn't an easy case. He gives everyone something to like. (I, for one, like what he says about our criminal justice system.) If elected he would have to make choices that disappoint either Michael Eric Dyson or Andrew Sullivan but for now he's keeping them both enraptured. And in one sense, he does represent change. It's silly to deny that with Obama at the helm, the country would, at least for a while, look and feel different to people around the world. And to Americans. For what that's worth.

But that's not merely what Obama is promising. He's promising transcendence, a magical release from partisan nastiness. Good luck! I'm sure Obama's palpable decency and empathy will lead corporate power and its political benefactors in Congress to lay down their political guns. He's selling unity and hope, yet what he's proposing to do wouldn't create much of either. It's progressive policies, not good intentions or expressed desires, that create unity and hope. Obama wouldn't even roll back Bush's tax cuts for the rich; he'd keep them in place until they expire in 2011. Very unifying. The unacceptable status quo--in which the powerful are way too powerful--will only be strengthened if it is ratified by a black "liberal" president. That's my fear.

You can argue that as a black man, he has to tell the guardians of the establishment what they want to hear. Nothing if not a skilled pol, he knows what he's doing when he stresses his Christianity, his opposition to Tom Hayden Democrats, his support for free trade, his belief in American exceptionalism. Maybe he's playing the powers-that-be for fools, attempting to smuggle a Trojan Horse of progressivism into the White House. Maybe he would emerge as the excellent progressive he used to be. I hope so. If he's a transformational progressive, surely it's not too much to ask that he run as one. There's not a single issue of importance on which he's running to the left of Edwards.

Yet Edwards, for better for worse, hasn't challenged Obama. He's criticized him around the edges--taking him to task for his cautious health care plan and his penchant for compromise--but he hasn't contested the central claim of his candidacy: that he represents a break with the corporatized establishment represented by Hillary. If anything, Edwards has strengthened Obama's anti-establishment cred with statements like: "Sen. Obama ... is not taking lobbyist money in this campaign. I think also on some of the substantive issues we're closer than I am with Sen. Clinton."

That, of course, is a factually correct statement, and I have no doubt that Edwards sincerely prefers Obama to Hillary. Still, Edwards could have established an equally valid line of argument that called into question Obama's anti-establishment, anti-corporate cred, one that pointed to his vote for Bush's lobbyist-written energy bill, his support for class action "reform," his championing of liquified coal, his persistent support for nuclear power, his K-Street project, his most recent support for the Shafta "free" trade model, his possibly legal bribery of pols in the early nominating states, etc.

Mention any of these things to Obama supporters, and they will dutifully mention Edwards's support for the war or some other bad vote he cast when he was in the Senate. Or they will point to Obama's voting record. What they want to avoid is a comparison of the positions, beliefs, and preoccupations at the heart of their campaigns--how they are choosing to run and proposing to govern. Edwards thoroughly rejects the corporate-friendly neoliberalism characterized by fealty to "free" trade and budget austerity. Obama doesn't. Edwards tips over establishment sacred cows like the so-called War on Terror and the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Obama props them up. Edwards preaches the importance of the labor movement everywhere he goes; Obama couldn't bring himself to even mention unions in his speech to the DNC.

In a devastating piece on Obama, Paul Street says:

He stands to the right of John Edwards' more genuinely and substantively populist variant of progressivism... and possibly now even to the right of Hillary Clinton.

You need not be an ardent leftist like Street to question Obama's progressivism and commitment to political battle. Just about every month he delivers a warning sign to progressives, and every time progressives manage to be surprised. Joe Lieberman. "Playing chicken with out troops."Donnie McClerkin. The Move On Vote. The silence on Kyl-Lieberman. The social security "crisis." The country as a whole doesn't know about these things. (The MSM, in Obama's campa for now, could have used the McClerkin controversy to quash his candidacy.) But we do. Progressives know about these things, and so we fear--or should fear--that an Obama general election campaign and presidency would be lackluster, if not maddening.

Of course, there's politics in JRE's decision to go easy on Obama. His campaign sees Hillary as his most direct competitor in Iowa, especially in rural areas, which have disproportionate power in the caucuses. The idea is: beat Hillary in the rural areas, surge past both her and Obama to victory. Brilliant strategy. If it works.

Down the stretch Edwards won't be doing much criticizing of his rivals, but he shouldn't eschew it altogether. The Peru Trade Deal provides an opening: Clinton and Obama were the only candidates in the field to support it. I like what Edwards said in his statement, and I hope it finds its way into his speeches.

By supporting this agreement, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have sent a powerful message to workers across America that they're willing to put the profits of Wall Street over the interests of Main Street.

Voters have a choice in this election. Do they want someone who will defend the broken system, someone who will continue the trade policies that have devastated communities like the one I grew up in? Or do we want someone with the strength and courage to stand up to the corporate interests and their lobbyists?

There's more...

If Edwards Wins: The January 4th Narrative

We've spent months debating which of the candidates would make the best nominee and president. But no less important than what these candidates would do is what their victories would mean. There will be a story line coming out of the primary, and it will have a huge impact on the battle between the two wings of the Democratic Party, the PPs (progressive-populists) and the CCs (centrist-corporatists.)

Clinton Captures the Iowa Caucuses, Secures Frontrunner Status

By MIKE GLOVER, January 4

Des Moines, Iowa (AP) - Senator Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses here yesterday, securing her frontrunner status and positioning herself to sweep through the nominating contests. The victory was vindication for both the Clintons' vaunted political machine and the Democratic political establishment, which in large measure rallied behind the Senator.

"Voters made the safe choice, probably a wise choice," said David Gergen, former advisor to presidents both Democratic and Republican. "Voters opted for experience over change, toughness over vision, and, you could argue, competency over character."

She held off spirited challenges from two candidates--Barack Obama and John Edwards--who both cast themselves as outsiders confronting a system embodied, they asserted, by Senator Clinton. The loss was a blow particularly to Edwards, who unlike Obama, may not be competitive in New Hampshire and beyond.

Observers said the loss called into question Edwards's strategy of using a populist message to try to appeal to the party's activist base. "He made the same mistake that Howard Dean made in 2004," said Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute. "You can make some noise running left but you can't win a primary. Will these candidates ever learn?"

An Obama victory would be more ambiguous. An Edwards victory would be a jolt to the central nervous system of the Democratic Establishment.

More than his rivals, Edwards has run as a progressive.  A movement progressive, if you will. What does that mean, to run as a progressive? It means that that you call yourself a progressive. Also that you reject Republican frames and build progressive ones. And lead on issues of importance to progressives. It also means that you stand with progressives. All those "special interest" groups that centrists blame for the failure of Dems? Edwards wants their support, aligns himself with them. Meanwhile he spurns the special interest group that's actually harmed the party: corporations.

Edwards is doing what no other presidential candidate is doing, has ever done: trying to create a labor-green-netroots coalition. He's focusing on economic justice, climate change, and issues that most animate the sphere, like foreign policy, media conglomeration, and internet freedom. His outreach to the netroots hasn't been flawless--he should've made civil liberties a priority and spoken out against the red baiting of Move On--but if the sphere has failed to coalesce behind him, the fault is not his.

He's had success wooing progressives--partial, yes, but partial it could only be given the celebrity and money of his rivals. Edwards has won important union endorsements, and he's likely to get the backing of UNITE-HERE, a particularly vibrant union, and its powerful Nevada affiliate, Culinary Workers Local 226. A Teamsters endorsement is also a possibility. He's also won raves from ACORN, a leading grassroots anti-poverty group, and the endorsement of Iowa for Sensible Priorities, which seeks to reduce the military budget. Issues related to economic justice are closest to JRE's heart (I'd argue that they should be closest to the heart of the movement), but he has also embraced rhetoric and positions that have won him the only major environmental endorsement so far and an intense following in the sphere. Although few elite bloggers have backed him with endorsements or fundraising appeals, Edwards has more support in the sphere that any other candidate.

An Edwards loss would be a loss for the progressive wing of the party. Never mind that the loyalties of progressives are divided, the MSM and the Democratic establishment would claim that the loss demonstrates the folly of trying to appeal to progressives. Of running left.

Yesterday at HuffPo Tom Edsall asked a group of (male) writers if the Edwards campaign provided a fair test of populism. Most gave the correct answer: No. As Chris Bowers said:

Media, money, identity, along with pre-established name recognition, favorability, and image all play roles. It isn't just about the candidate's message. To date, I think it could be argued that Edwards has actually done quite well, given comparatively low media coverage and money spent in Iowa. He has had little going for him in the state apart from message.

But the patent truth pointed out by Bowers won't matter. The Establishment marginalizes progressive voices, then blames progressivism for their marginalization.

I chose to support Edwards not because I believed he was ideal, but because I believed he was the candidate most likely to reinvigorate the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The campaign he's run has done nothing but strengthen my belief. It saddens me--frightens me--to think that if Edwards loses, it might be many years before a top-tier candidate runs a comparably progressive and populist campaign.

But there is an alternate scenario, one that we could help to make a reality.

Edwards Captures Iowa Caucuses, Creates Upheaval in the Race

By Mike Glover, January 4

Des Moines, Iowa (AP)  - Former Senator John Edwards won the Iowa caucuses here yesterday, throwing the Democratic nomination process into turmoil. With a reliance on retail politics and a populist message, Edwards defeated two rivals who outspent him more than ten to one. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will now try to slow his momentum in the nation first primary, to be held in just four days in New Hampshire.

Although Edwards had campaigned heavily in the state and pinned his hopes for capturing the nomination on a win here, it was still a striking upset, one that validated his emphasis on economic inequality. Crisscrossing the state he relentlessly sounded his populist themes, railing against corporate interests which, he said, had corrupted the political system and rigged it against middle and working class Americans.

"This is a real wake up call for the moderates in the party," said political analyst Stu Rothenberg. "This is not Bill Clinton's party anymore. Which means it might not be Hillary Clinton's, either."

An Edwards victory would be great for progressives; what more, really, do you need to know?

There's more...

5 Short Posts About Edwards

The New Ad

Edwards is doing what he needs to do: getting buzz-bang for his media buck. His new ad cites his plan to push Congress to pass a law that would cut off its own health care coverage unless it passes a bill that covers everyone.

Across the blogosphere Edwards critics are falling in love with the 27th Amendment, which says "No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." But it's not clear that  "compensation" refers to benefits. More important, the law was designed to prevent Congress from enriching itself; here it would be doing the opposite. In other words, JRE's law would be very much in the spirit of the constitution, which seeks to contain the power of the powerful. If health care is a right, and it is, why should it be granted to government officials and not everyone?

Even Obama's legal advisor seems to think it's constitutional. It's certainly a political and legal fight Edwards would welcome. In any case, voters in Iowa and elsewhere will gobble it up. That's one thing that impresses me about that Edwards campaign: he's seeking to the win the support of primary voters, not the Establishment. The same can not always be said of Obama, whose talk of a social security crisis seemed designed to please pundits. Paul Krugman thinks it's

incredible that Barack Obama would make obeisance to fashionable but misguided Social Security crisis-mongering a centerpiece of his campaign. It's a bad omen; it suggests that he is still, despite all that has happened, desperately seeking approval from Beltway insiders.

Substantively, this is wrong -- and the tone-deafness is hard to understand. Tim Russert doesn't vote in Iowa.

2. The Primary Lie of the Primary Finally Dies

You've heard it a thousand times: the leading candidates are all the same. Ironically, it's not the MSM that pushes this nonsense; they understand that Edwards is to the left of his rivals. (But to them, "left" is a pejorative.) It's progressive bloggers and journalists who can't see the differences that even Ralph Nader sees (He prefers Edwards.)

Fortunately, with the reemergence of trade as a major issue, this lie seems to be dying a much-deserved death. While Obama and Clinton support the "free" trade deal with Peru, Edwards opposes it. John Nichols:

For those who suggest that there are not enough differences between the Democratic frontrunners, here's an example of where one leading contender -- John Edwards -- stands head and shoulders above the others.

There are many great reasons to oppose the Peru Trade deal. Not least is this one cited by the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney.

We are justifiably skeptical about whether the Bush Administration will faithfully enforce the newly negotiated labor and environment protections, since this administration has done such a poor job enforcing these provisions in existing trade agreements.

In supporting the Peru deal, Sens Clinton and Obama are trusting Bush (or President Guiliani, for that matter) to enforce the protections. Maybe Edwards should, uh, point that out.

3. Bill Richardson's Sleaze

Edwards faces a new mini-challenge: the slime oozing forth from the Richardson campaign. Richardson and his campaign keep claiming that Edwards would leave some 100,000 troops in Iraq "indefinitely." This is untrue, and Richardson knows it's untrue. Which is to say that Richardson is lying. Edwards would leave only a few thousand troops in Iraq, non-combat troops to protect the embassy and guard humanitarian missions.

4. Does Hillary Know What an Occupation Is?

Edwards has rightly criticized Clinton for saying she wants to leave combat troops in Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda. He, by contrast, would leave troops stationed outside Iraq that could be deployed inside Iraq to go after AQ. Now, in the liberal-la-la land that I live in, I would like a leading candidate to say that he or she plans to
to leave the battling of AQ to Sunni tribes, who seems to be doing quite well, but in the real world of presidential politics, no candidate is going to give up the "right" to go after AQ in Iraq. In other words, JRE's position is as good as we'll get and much better than Hillary's.

Amusingly, though, Team Clinton is trying to blur the distinction between their positions--not so easy to do, given that most people know that "inside Iraq" does not mean the same thing as "outside Iraq."

Check out the title of this post over at Hillaryhub, a new propaganda site set up by the campaign:

Edwards Would Continue Combat Missions Against Al-Qaeda In Iraq But Attacks Hillary For Having The Same Position

Okay, one more time. Inside country does not equal outside country.

5. Edwards Rises and Hillary Drops

Hillary and her supporters are sad. And shocked. Shocked and sad. Saddenly shocked that Edwards would have the temerity to criticize her. On the issues, no less!

Note to Taylor Marsh and others: when Edwards blasts Hillary for taking two different positions on Social Security or for deceptively claiming her vote for Kyl-Lieberman was a vote for diplomacy, those are issue-based critiques. Just as when Team Obama blasts Edwards for inconsistency or questions his authenticity because he's moved left, those are issue-based critiques.

Are Edwards's swipes at Hillary pointed? Yup. Tough? I hope so. You'd think Clinton and her supporters had never seen a tough election; but of course they're just pretending to be dismayed as they call Edwards angry (God forbid) and negative (Allah have mercy.)

Calls for civility are the last refuge of the Establishment.

Listening to their nervous calls for Edwards to lay off, you start to sense that he's getting somewhere. Sure enough, he's on the move in New Hampshire and nationally. The last Rasumussen tracking poll has him with three of Obama. Don't let up, Johnny Boy.

Meanwhile over at Openleft, Stoller and Bowers are expressing dimsay that it was the mainstream press that has brought down Hillary's numbers, and perhaps it was. But what do they think gave her the lead in the first place? Her positions on the issues? Baaaahhhh. The Tweety Giveth and the Tweenty taketh away.

There's more...

Edwards Seizes His Winning Issues

For all the philosophical and ideological differences between John Edwards and his chief rivals--differences that I discuss here, here, and here--he still needs specific, charged issues with which to draw contrasts.

And he has them: trade and Iran.

On trade, the differences between Edwards and his rivals might not be immediately clear, because they sometimes sound alike. (They all sound like Edwards.) They criticize NAFTA and claim to support fair trade. But the Peru Trade Pact, which Congress will soon consider, gives us a chance to see how deep their committment to fair trade runs.

For Obama, not far. He says he will vote for the Peru deal because it contains labor and environmental standards. But, as Edwards says in his statement opposing the deal, "[W]orker rights are no stronger than George Bush's willingness to enforce them." All of Big Business (and the DLC) hailed the deal, because they know the standards are toothless--a fact that Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue has openly discussed. Says Nathan Newman:

"...[T]he one thing that has come out of the announcement of the trade deal between Dem leadership and Bush is an admission by US corporate leadership that US law does not meet minimum international human rights standards, as embodied by the International Labor Organization (ILO)

No environmental group, small business organization, or major union supports the deal. The AFL-CIO says it "fails to adequately address issues related to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and the ability of foreign corporations to challenge U.S. law," and Change to Win says it "fails to address how to protect U.S. jobs or create new ones, undermines our prevailing wage and Buy America laws, and hands foreign firms operating here more privileges over U.S. companies." And as it bad as this deal would be for American workers, it would be devastating for Peruvian farmers, who would be forced to compete against heavily subsidized American farmers. It's so threatening that "four million workers and small-scale Peruvian farmers went on strike this summer to protest the impact that the FTA would have on rural communities there."

The Peru deal will force Hillary to choose between the base, which sees the lie of "free" trade, and the Establishment, which in united in its support for "free" trade. If she remains true to her corporate form, she will support the deal, but even if pressure from Edwards forces her to oppose it, she won't be able to match his committment to fair trade. To do so would be to become a different person.

In his statement, Edwards announced his opposition to not only the Peru deal but also to the three other deals worked out in secret negotiations between Congressional Democrats and the Bush Administration. Bush, he says, is trying to "expand the NAFTA approach to Peru, Panama, South Korean, and Columbia." Edwards, drawing a line in the sand, says Congress must first take care of workers:

Congress should not pass further trade deals without first taking steps to address the stagnant wages and insecurity caused by globalization. Congress needs to adopt universal health care, reform the tax code, strengthen unions, and expand and renew trade adjustment assistance.

The press release is probably the stongest pro-fair trade statement ever put out by a viable presidential contender. As such, it could represent a turning point in both the debate about trade and the primary race. The corporate press usually doesn't talk about trade except to bemoan "protectionism," but it's an issue of visceral importance to voters, and it has a way of asserting itself in political races. The wounds left by NATFA are still bleeding. Trade became a big issue in the 2004 Democratic primary, and with clear differences emerging, it will again.

Iran has already become a big issue, with Bush-Cheney just itching to drop freedom on Tehran. On any given day, the candidates sound similar notes on Iran. They all advocate mulitateral diplomacy while leaving "all options on the table" (because it's considered weak to rule out nuclear holocaust.) But back in February in a statement that should have received more attention, Edwards said he was open to a non-agression treaty with Iran. And now, with Hillary's vote for the Lieberman-Kyl amendment, the differences are even more stark.

The bill, drafted by AIPAC and sponsored by neocons of the highest order, "designates Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization" and explicity links the war in Iraq to Iran. Forget mission creep; it allows for war creep by providing Bush legal and political cover for an invasion of Iran. Obama opposed Kyl-Lieberman, but having missed the vote and waited hours to state his position (hours that included the last debate), he's less credible on this issue than Edwards, who went after her immediately. As he said in the last debate and surely will in tonight's:

I voted for this war in Iraq, and I was wrong to vote for this war. And I accept responsibility for that. Senator Clinton also voted for this war.

We learned a very different lesson from that. I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran.

It strikes me as amazing that Hillary would cast a prowar in the middle of the race for the Democratic nomination. It demonstrates that she doesn't think the base can or will stop her; indeed, her backers told the New York Times that she's already moved into general election mode.

But she may have gotten too hawkish too soon. In a clear sign that she's worried about this issue, she sent out a mailer in Iowa that claimed that her vote for Kyl-Lieberman was a vote "for stepped up diplomacy," which is like calling a punch a hug. Edwards rightly ridiculed this explanation and has released a series of statements blasting Clinton for aiding Bush's campaign for a new war. "If you give this president an inch,"Edwards says,"he will take a mile - and launch a war."

Hillary is enlisting Wes Clark to try to claim that black is white, but she won't be able to hide from this vote. No less a shaper of conventional opinion than Tim Russert is comparing Kyl-Liebeman to the 2002 vote authorizing military action against Iraq. Edwards is criticizing Hillary for the vote as he campaigns in the early states, and it's turning out to be a soundbite friendly issue, easily framed and understood.

I hear the skeptics: the race in all-important Iowa won't turn on these issues. Perhaps not: other things are probably more important: organization, the strength of the candidates, local issues. But if Edwards wins Iowa the differences on these issues, and others, will loom large. That's one of the reasons Hillary is campaigning so hard in Iowa. The last thing she wants is to get caught in a race against Edwards. The Progressive Populist Insurgent v. The Hawkish Corporate Tool of the Establishment. Nope, she can't have that.

There's more...

What Edwards is About

You should not be president if you do not acknowledge the divisions that threaten our economy, our society and our soul.
                                                                                 --John Edwards

We bloggers who write about the primary tend to lose perspective. Oh, we're better than the mainstream media--we don't obsess over frivolousness--but we get sidetracked, distracted. We're too close. We see everything and nothing. We seldom see the forest of the big stories for the trees of two-day stories. We discern weighty meaning in small things. We focus on process, inside-baseball, and esoterica. On moments and quotable quotes. On whose press release is strongest, on who's first, on who finds the most creative clean way of calling Bill O'Reilly an asshole.

On who's doing well. We like to think we're free from the MSM's fixation on the horse race--on poll numbers, buzz, fundraising totals--but we're not. We gush over smart political moves, over well-crafted spin and message discipline. Despite ourselves we ascribe moral worth to success, as if there were a correlation between popularity and morality, as if lofty poll numbers reflected character, as if the most enlightened campaigns didn't normally lose. We mistake winners for winners.

The other day, in this thread, Taylor Marsh, criticized Edwards for focusing on poverty before he had constructed his narrative. When I argued that if it was a mistake, it was an admirable one, Marsh said:

Poverty is a critically important issue, but not as important as crafting an Edwards narrative first.

Got that? Poverty is less important than crafting a narrative. Like I said, we lose perspective. So, what is it that we bloggers miss? The core of the campaigns, their essence, their undelying values and worldview. Who the candidates are, or at least, who they want to be. We focus on plot at the expense of theme.

I was reminded of this by, of all people, Garance Franke-Ruta. I say, "of all people," because I've been harshly critical of her writing in the past. She's a pro-Hillary blogger who claims without evidence that the hositlity to Hillary among male bloggers derives from sexism. But unlike most bloggers, unlike me, Franke Ruta does actual on-the-ground reporting. She went to Iowa and filed a report:

Located in what Des Moines sophisticates call the armpit of Iowa, Keokuk is wedged between Illinois and Missouri on a spit of land heading south off the bottom of Iowa's flat border into the triangle where the mighty Mississippi meets its tributary Iowa River. The massive changes our economy has undergone -- from heavy manufacturing to today's 80 percent service sector -- has left scars across this strip of land. There, for the Edwards' campaign event, a message of economic populism and skepticism of globalization seemed as natural a fit as the hawks that coasted overhead...

"All the river communities in Iowa , it's pretty much industry [that had been the base], and it's tough in these areas economically," Keokuk Chief of Police Thomas L. Crew explained after Edwards finished his pitch. "Overall our population is declining."

The town's steel plant is gone, Crew explained. The grain milling facility now produces corn syrup for a French firm. The automotive parts manufacturer that used to supply General Motors now supplies an Italian company. "All of those things have cut back," he said. And those are the ones still open.  "They've gone elsewhere. Some of those plants have gone to Mexico , and they've gone to China and other places."

Edwards, son of a mill worker, is running as the candidate of the places like these, the places time forgot. His challenge, though, in defending a vanishing way of life -- and it was a very good way of life, as I learned at an Ankeny cookout I attended with a unionized John Deere welder whose high school education and more than two decades on the job now put him in the range of a $75,000 salary in an environment where three-bedroom homes can still be had for $200,000 -- is that he himself left it behind more than 30 years ago.

...Yet In jugding Edwards, it's worth recalling Aristotle's conception of virtue, which lies not in our beliefs or intentions, but in the habits and practices that make up our days. Edwards has spent his recent years marching with unions and advocating for economic justice, so that those lucky union employees I met in Iowa could continue to live in placid, well-mown communities, and those unlucky ones struggling with their small jobs at awful chain stores could hope to again live in vibrant communities where young people want to stay.

Edwards may not win the nomination, and he hasn't even won the hearts of the Iowa working class -- an October Des Moines Register poll found Hillary Clinton winning union households -- but he has become, nonetheless, the nation's most important spokesman for a part of America that cannot be seen from the office towers of the coasts, or even those of downtown Des Moines. No matter what happens in Iowa in January, I hope he'll continue to speak up for that America , and help teach others to turn the camera around.

The cynic in me wonders if Franke-Ruta's claim that he's defending a "vanishing way of life" isn't a subtle attempt to marginalize him, if by depicting him as the candidate of the depressed and downtrodden, she hopes to assist Hillary's effort to lay claim to the middle class. (I'd argue that Edwards is the candidate of the poor, the working class, and the middle class--to the extent that those distinctions still matter in Bush's Gilded Age.) But there is undeniably something refreshingly retro about the Edwards campaign. We're not supposed to say that, of course. We're supposed to talk about change and new ideas and bridges to the future, but at the core of his campaign is a concern for people who lack power, the less lucky among us. This is what used to be called liberalism, but that's another thing we're not supposed to say.  

"I like Edwards,"Barabara Eherenreich says, "because he's taken up the banner of the little guy and gal in America's grossly one-sided class war." It's not quite as simple as that. Or maybe it is.

I'm not arguing that Obama and Clinton don't care about the unlucky. But it's not what their campaigns are about. Obama is about getting past our partisan squabbles and destructive divisions, about cleaning the crap out of the pipes of our political systen. Clinton is about competence and strength, about fighting the right and helping the middle class. To be sure, there's overlap. If you have one eye on poll numbers and one ear on the pundits, their policy positions can look alike and their rhetoric can sounds similar. (Maybe) But there's a difference in emphasis and committment. It's the difference between talking about something every week and talking about it every day, between asking unions what they'll do for you and asking what you can do for them, between finding as issue an embracing a cause, between seeing economic inequality as a problem and seeing it as a crisis.

It's a crucial difference, even if people don't always recognize it as such. In a column lamenting the lack of differences among the top candidates, Katha Pollitt undermines her own argument:

...[A]lthough nearly three in ten Americans are poor or near-poor, only Edwards has made a campaign issue out of social and economic inequality. Only Edwards seems to grasp the significance of our widening class divisions.

Isn't that enough for you, Katha, that "only Edwards seems to grasp the significance of our widening class divisions? It's enough for me. It seems like exactly the kind of difference that elections should turn on.

Please consider all this in light of the recent news about the Service Workers Union. In typical horserace fashion, the coverage focused on SEIU's non-endorsement of Edwards at the national level. But he was denied a national endorsement only by an accident of geography: Obama and Clinton represent states with powerful SEIUs. Even so, Edwards has more support within the 2-million-person, famously diverse union than the rest of the candidates combined, putting the lie to the claim that his base is white and male. Why do union members support Edwards? Because his policy positions and work on behalf of unions reflect his committment to economic justice. But, the critics say, he's spent three years courting unions, as if this were somehow to his discredit. He could've spent three years courting corporations.

All candidates are free to court unions, just as all candidates are free to focus on poverty and economic inequality, and to talk everywhere they go about the people left behind by conservatism and neoliberalism.

But only one candidate is.

There's more...

The Edwards Campaign Knows Stuff We Don't

Yesterday the Edwards Campaign held a conference call to discuss the Iowa SEIU endorsement. Out of curiosity I listened in. I wanted to know what the campaign sounded like, what it felt like, the vibe.

I came away with three clear impressions:

First, the communications director, Chris Kofinis, is good. I'd never heard him before, and I still don't know what he looks like. Along with JRE's campaign director, Paul Blank, he ran the labor-backed Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign. When they came on board in the summer, their opponent in the Wal-Mart wars said, "Wal-Mart's entire defense campaign was essentially a reaction to these two, and when you can hold the attention of the world's largest corporation for two years, you have abilities any campaign would value."

Indeed. On the call David Bonior gave slightly rambling answers that were redeemed by his grizzled authority. Kofinis was strong, clear, and articulate. On message, as they say. When a reporter tried to downplay the signifigance of the Iowa SEIU endorsement, Kofinis pointed out that the Clinton and Obama campaigns fought hard to stop Iowa SEIU from backing Edwards, just as they did at the national level. There's a reason why they didn't want him to get the endorsement.

Second, the campaign's criticism of Hillary could be sharper and more consistent. When a reporter pointed out that Hillary was holding an event with health care professionals to coincide with the conference call, Bonior said that Hillary always followed Edwards, on health care, on tax reform, on any number of issues. He's right, but this line of criticism obscures their most important line of criticism: that she's a corporate, hawkish Dem whose committment to progressives will last only through the primary season, perhaps not even that long. (She's already moved into general election mode.) Is she copying Edwards, or are her policies and positions inferior? It can be both in the real world, but in politics you have to choose one.

Third, they're confident about their chances in Iowa. Of course every campaign tries to project confidence, but to my ear at least, their confidence seemed genuine. They were predictably defensive at times--refusing, for example, to admit that they were dissappointed not to get the backing of SEUI national--but when Iowa director Jennifer O'Malley talked about the caucuses, she was relaxed, almost serene. O'Malley ran JRE's ground game in 2004 (as well as Tim Johnson's, which was credited for his narrow and impressive 2002 victory over John Thune), and her confidence is that of a person who's done this before. His campaign knows it knows how to win.

A less confident, less disciplined campaign would have gone up on TV already. As this graph shows, Edwards has only spent around 20 k on TV, compared to Obama's 3.5 million and Clinton's 1.6 million. Obama's TV hasn't helped him (or it's prevented a slide, perhaps), but Clinton's TV has helped her to wipe away JRE's lead in the polls, and his campaign had to be tempted to answer. But it's wisely holding its fire. If his richer rivals were going to bury him, they already would have. Plus TV generally gives you a boost at the outset, then you fall back; just ask Bill Richardson. Edwards will hold off as long as he can, then go ad for ad with his rivals in the final month, to coincide with the decision-making of the thousands of late-breakers.

The caucuses, in any case, will not be won on TV. As O'Malley kept saying, it will be won on the ground. The only supporters who matter are those who venture out into the January cold and, in a room full of both friends and not-friends, declare their support. Time and again, in Iowa and elsewhere, we've seen superior poll numbers and intensity of support trumped by strength of organization--an unquantifiable variable that should humble all prognosticators. It's perhaps the most fundmental task in politics, getting your supporters to vote, and Team Edwards thinks they'll be better at it than any other campaign--that's where SEIU's political expertise will help.

[One quick note on SEIU: people are overlooking the importance of the SEIU endorsement in Nevada, just as they're overlooking the importance of Nevada itself. With the potential backing of both SEIU Nevada (supplemented by neighoring California's SEUI) and the powerful Culinary Workers Union, Edwards will be strong in Nevada. If he wins Iowa but loses New Hampshire, he'll have a chance to regain momentum there. He's just tripled his staff in the state. Vegas baby, Vegas.]

I can't tell you the keys to getting-out-the-vote in Iowa, because I don't know what they are. Who does? The campaign with the widest and deepest roots in the state, is my guess.

But then organizational strength needs to be combined with a certain level of enthusiasm. Edwards has it. Nothing has been able to deplete his resevoir of support: not the national fixation on his grooming habits, not the millions of TV dollars spent by Obama and Clinton. Edwards has visited almost every county in the state, most several times over. His campaign is premised on his lawyer's belief that if he gets a chance to talk to people, he can persuade them. Just give him ten or twenty minutes, and he'll make the case, seal the deal. That's what happened in 2004, when his late surge almost brought him a victory that would have likely led to the presidency:

Besides the birth of the Dean phenomenon last year, I haven't witnessed anything in this campaign as exciting as the Edwards events I've attended over the last few days. A Dean event is like a Grateful Dean concert, where the faithful show up and groove to their favorite hits. There is a knowing, insiderish connection between the fans and the musician. The applause is boisterous yet perfunctory. There's no expectation of hearing something new. (For all those Dean fans who think this analogy stereotypes Dean supporters as hippies, please direct your complaints to Dean media adviser Steve McMahon, who coined the Grateful Dead comparison in a conversation with me Saturday night.)

Edwards's events here are like watching a roomful of formerly deaf people listen to music for the first time. People walk in as skeptics and leave as believers.

Of course, many, if not most, Iowans know him by now. There won't be the excitement of newness. He's more like a favorite son. He has maintained most of his supporters from 2004, and his campaign believes that in the final weeks of the campaign, those who may have flirted with other candidates will come home, more loyal than ever. And he'll get some new backers as well. Most important, a distinctly high percentage of his supporters will, with the "assistance" of his expert campaign, actually go and vote.

UPDATE: It's been suggested by other bloggers who were on the call that I mistook Chris Kofinis for Chris Chafe, who did more talking, and I think I did. (Great reporting by me.) So...they're both good--how's that? Chafe, former chief of staff for UNITE-HERE, is a senior advisor, responsible for outreach to unions.

Diaries

Advertise Blogads