Monday, June 12, 2006

Edwards Leads the Presidential Pack in Iowa

At this point, talk of the 2008 presidential election is speculative at best. But, for the political junkie, it's compelling speculation.

Although normally a not-so-significant state, Iowa holds great importance during the primary season since it has the first presidential caucus in the country. The next one is scheduled for January 2008, which is 18 months from now.

In an effort to ramp-up excitement early, the Des Moines Register recently conducted a poll of likely caucus voters. Who came out on top was surely a surprise to many pundits: John Edwards.

The vice presidential nominee from 2004 brought in 30% of the vote, topping second place winner and early primary favorite Hillary Clinton by four percentage points. John Kerry (12%) and Iowa governor Tom Vilsack (10%) rounded out the top vote getters, while the rest of the bunch got 3% or less of the vote (including Russ Feingold, who pulled in 3%).

What stands out even more, however, is the favorability of Edwards compared to the other potential Democratic contenders. When asked how they felt about Edwards, 83% responded that they either have a "very favorable" (42%) or "mostly favorable" (41%) impression of him. That’s a lot of love.

In contrast, Clinton and Vilsack were only at 71% on the favorability scale, while Kerry was at 69%. No one else even topped 40%, although the number of "unsure" responses surpassed 50% for Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh, and Mark Warner, which suggests familiarity is still an issue with those candidates at this point.

Overall it was a very strong showing for John Edwards, who was my favorite candidate from the 2004 Democratic primary race (yes, even more than Howard Dean...although I appreciate the issues and grassroots enthusiasm Dean brought to the race).

Edwards has a strong, focused, and consistent message that resonates with many people. His "One America Committee," which he has been pushing ever since the '04 election, has hit that message over and over again, as well. It's the economy, stupid.

But even more specific than that, Edwards' message focuses on poverty. And he tackles the issue in a way that flips the red state-blue state dichotomy used so well by Republicans on its head. The conservative ascendancy of the last 30 years worked hard to provide the public with a perception that Democrats were elitist and Republicans were with the masses (how else can the New England reared, Ivy League educated, rich beyond belief current president play it off like he's in touch with "common folk"?).

In essence, the goal of the conservative movement was to make class a cultural entity. This is the basic point of Thomas Frank's popular book, What's the Matter with Kansas?

What Edwards does is strive to re-affirm the economic core of class. He puts it on his website like he did numerous times on the stump in 2004: "There are two different Americas in our country today -- one for those at the top who get everything they want, and another for everybody else who struggles just to get by." In other words, the divisions that exist in America are defined by income level, not by cultural or social interests.

He's got the message, the heritage, and the looks. The question remains, however, whether Edwards -- who has been out of the Senate for two years now -- can muster enough broad support (specifically financial) to win the nomination. Although, as Chris Cillizza of "The Fix" points out: "Edwards's strong showing in the poll should silence some critics who believe his lack of fundraising so far this cycle is a sign of a lack of energy for his candidacy."

These polls, although early and speculative, can have an impact on the more tangible side of running a campaign such as donations. Just ask Tom Vilsack, who after this mediocre performance in his own state can expect Democratic donors to probably think twice before cutting him a check any time soon.

And although I always support Russ Feingold, my favorite Dem in '08 remains my favorite from '04 -- John Edwards.

2 Comments:

Blogger proletariat said...

Seth,

I always thought Edwards had a good message. There is no doubt in my mind the Dems would have won if they made the wise choice.

Even with his message, through the election cycle, I got this plastic feeling about him. He was saying the right things but didn't really mean them. In the end records matter, and his record is another Edwards entirely.

Since the election, I have been impressed. He started an organization that focuses on poverty, and he appears to be genuine.

June 12, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for the comment, Nate.

I never got a plastic feeling from Edwards. As far as politicians go, I think he's pretty audience-friendly. He certainly has had lots of experience wooing people in the courtroom.

But what excites me most about him is his message and rhetorical delivery of it. Populism seems to be a lost art in the Democratic Party in recent years, which is sad considering the Dems really invented it. Edwards seems to get it, though.

June 13, 2006  

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