Is There an Edwards Surge?

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According to the polls, the Democratic race in Iowa is a three-way dead heat. A month ago, pundits had determined that the race was between Clinton and Obama. What happened? I certainly don’t know. According to conventional wisdom, as voters get closer to making a decision, Edwards appears to be the safer choice for those who fear choosing a woman or an African-American.

I don’t buy it. The political pundits refuse to look beyond appearance, style and identity politics. The Newsweek article calling Edwards The Sleeper is one more example of the media focusing on style, not substance. For much of the article, Edward’s “rags-to-riches” story is revisted. According to Newsweek, losing the VP debate to Cheney in 2004 (because he “missed obvious opportunities to strike back”) and his wife’s battle with cancer are the factors that have caused Edwards to reposition himself for the 2008 race.

Newsweek claims he has become more “prickly and defensive”. No longer the “cheerful optimist,” Edwards has “gone negative”

Seemingly out of nowhere, he began harshly attacking Hillary Clinton as a tool of lobbyists. It was a risky move in friendly Iowa, where going negative can backfire. To make sure he didn’t go too far, his campaign gauged the reaction by quietly poll-testing his attacks with voters, says an Edwards campaign aide who didn’t want to be named talking about internal tactics.

It seems to me that the more likely reason for the race getting tighter is because Edwards is closer to the Iowa Democratic voters than either Clinton or Obama on most of the important issues. Edwards’ populist, anti-corporate, anti-special interest rhetoric resonates in rural Iowa.

What used to be a message directed towards those in poverty is now a message directed to middle class Americans. As the chart below from the Congressional Budget Office indicates, a new “Gilded Age” has resulted from the pro-corporate, pro-special interest agenda of the Bush Republicans and, now that Kucinich appears to be out of the race, Edwards is the only candidate to who is really addressing the issues.

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Rather than “going negative” as the Newsweek article claims, Edwards appears to be speaking to and for many Iowa Democrats. Will Edwards populist message gain momentum outside of Iowa? It appears certain that he will have to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. But if he does, it just might be that he has tapped into a deep and pervasive anger among American voters. Consider a recent poll conduced by The Democratic Corps. Here is the Executive Summary:

If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country, we have not witnessed it; certainly not in 1992 when discontented voters brought the Republican Party down to an historic low, giving one in five of their votes to an unstable 3rd party candidate and putting Bill Clinton in the White House. The scale of today’s discontent is evident in the 70 percent who now say the country is off on the wrong track and in George Bush’s job approval and personal ratings, now at their lowest levels ever.

But that number is a superficial read of the contempt and deep frustration with the leaders of the country and our times; a period that leaves America trapped in an unnecessary war, while neglecting to take care of things at home and protect its own borders and jobs and living standards; a period that leaves the average middle class person struggling with rising costs, medical and gas bills, while politicians and big business special interests take care of themselves, not the country. They believe America is losing ground to countries around the world that are rushing to catch up, while our leaders are rudderless. The biggest challenge and opportunity one year out from the 2008 election is whether the Democrats will become the voice of that change.

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