LOS ANGELES – And around the corner in Iowa...watch out for John Edwards.
If you’ve been following the early polls out of Iowa, still the first caucus state for 2008, the name that shows up regularly with Hillary’s is John Edwards. Usually running neck-and-neck on the Democratic side is the former vice presidential nominee and 2004 second place finisher, the now retired former senator from North Carolina.
Word was, in 2004, that if the contest in Iowa had gone another week, Edwards could’ve won it. Kerry pulled it out, but Edwards was closing in the final days. The reasons Edwards did so well included how good he was in the living room-size groups that dominate Iowa campaigning, and among the rural voters who make up a significant percentage of the Iowa caucus electorate.
As a retail, rural candidate, you just couldn’t get any better. People called him the next Bill Clinton. Some said he was even better than Bill Clinton had been when he was a candidate.
What held him back later was his message, and maybe his youthfulness. Two Americas can be pretty stunning the first time you hear it. Not necessarily the second or third time. In Iowa, maybe. Not by the time you get to New Hampshire. Not after that.
John Edwards was surely right, then and now, that poverty remains an unaddressed issue in America. That’s what Two Americas is all about: the gap between rich and poor, between the have’s and the have not’s, all true but not enough to get you to 51 percent, ultimately. Edwards needed, and needs, more than that for a presidential campaign, even in the Democratic primaries.
By this time around, certainly, people will be expecting more. It is, however, a good start for Iowa, and Iowa is a good start for the game. And this is a man with enormous raw talent, and the experience of having been around the track before, which cannot be underestimated.
Edwards, more so than any of the other candidates, knows how to run in Iowa, and has the time, inclination, and ability to do it. If anyone is currently situated to upend Hillary in Iowa ,he is.
Moreover, unlike last time around, Edwards now has somewhere to go to from Iowa, which he really didn’t have last time around. He has South Carolina, sooner rather than later.
The question is what more he has, this time around.
Substantively speaking, Edwards, like Hillary, has to deal with his vote in favor of the war resolution. Positioning himself on the war is one challenge. He also has to figure out how he positions himself with respect to his own 2004 running mate, John Kerry, who seems to have less residual popularity and organization in Iowa than Edwards does.
Most important, to be sure, is his wife’s health; she has been fighting breast cancer since the 2004 campaign.
But Edwards definitely has advantages this time, in addition to experience. From now on, the presidential contest must be evaluated in light of the new rules adopted by the Democratic Party as a result of changes recommended by its Rules Committee earlier this month. Those changes moved Nevada and South Carolina to the first two weeks of the schedule, along with the traditional first in the nation Iowa caucus and the first in the nation New Hampshire primary. So now you have to think in terms of four states, instead of the usual two.
Primary politics is all about expectations, and bettering them. One of the obvious beneficiaries of the move of South Carolina should be the man who used to represent the neighboring state in the United States Senate. The question this time around is whether he will be able to do a better job than he did the first time capitalizing on a better than expected Iowa showing in (Nevada and) New Hampshire before South Carolina. That will require going beyond the Two Americas theme, the challenge Edwards has yet to conquer. If he does, watch out.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.