DES MOINES, IOWA–At Senator John Edwards’s campaign headquarters in downtown Des Moines Saturday morning, the candidate made a brief stop to rev up his supporters before heading off to Dubuque and Waterloo via Maquoketa. One thing I do like about the Iowa caucuses is that they sure do make candidates crawl all over flyover country. There were easily more cameramen and reporters than the supporters sporting “John Edwards Believes in YOU” t-shirts at his crowded storefront office. Awaiting the candidate, volunteers chanted “It’s our time now,” and jockeyed with each other to capture pictures of George Stephanopoulos. I chatted with women from Arizona and Missouri who are convinced that Edwards is electable because “he’s from the south and has cross-over appeal.” Veteran volunteers and caucus-goers sound like pundits. The typical man on the street in Des Moines talks in ready sound bites. A local at Edwards’s headquarters, spotting reporters in the vicinity, spontaneously announced, “the beauty of the Iowa caucuses is that candidates get real questions from real people.”
Staff shared Edwards’s final TV spot with the waiting crowd–with background music alone, lots of positive-sounding words, like vision and hope, appeared over attractive pictures of the senator. In his very brief remarks, Edwards cited FDR and JFK as the kind of presidents who “believed in what is possible.” Apparently, Edwards can’t think of a Democratic example of such vision on the part of anyone who’s held office since he was in the third grade.
“He’d make a good running mate for someone wouldn’t he?” an Australian journalist (there are 125 foreign journalists traveling the state in their own bus for the caucuses) asked me as we watched Edwards and his two little towheads waving from the bus as it headed off.
What might happen? The end of Dick Gephardt’s 30-year political career. A Howard Dean win, however narrow, that his campaign will spin as a sign of his resiliency. A strong-enough finish by John Kerry to boost him in New Hampshire–at Clark’s expense.
Iowa has such a lousy record of picking winners that this year’s caucuses might not be all that consequential. In 1992, Bill Clinton got about three percent of the vote and came in fourth–after Tom Harkin and “uncommitted.” Dukakis was third in 1988. The winner of the money primary, i.e. the most money at the start of the election year, is far likelier to win a nomination than Iowa’s choice.