Saturday, December 29, 2007

The two Johns

They couldn’t be more dissimilar in their personal styles, the way they relate to and connect with people, their ages and the states they’re from. But former Sen. John Edwards, fighting strongly in Iowa in the 2008 race, and Sen. John Kerry, veteran of the 2004 campaign, may well be joined at the political hip in one meaningful respect: an ability to tough it out, to emerge Lazarus-like from the crypt of low expectations by the public and, especially, the press.

Americans are still deep down in love with the underdog story, and the arc of Edwards’ campaign has been one that Americans have embraced before. Largely written off last summer in a crowded field — and overlooked by a media smitten with the rock-star incandescence of Barack Obama — Edwards has been steadily building momentum (the proverbial “big mo”) and now the former North Carolina senator contends for, at least, a strong second in the Iowa caucuses set to start on Thursday.

John Kerry took the much the same route to the nomination in 2004. For months Kerry languished in the weeds, plagued by single-digit results in the polls. But the results of the Iowa caucuses that year vaulted the Massachusetts senator out of the Democratic pack, and made him the new front-runner in a field about as crowded as the current one.

And right now Edwards is a literal whisker behind or ahead of Obama in the eleventh-hour polling in Iowa, depending on which poll you read — and always well within the margin of error. Edwards, a famed trial lawyer, has been making what he’s called his “closing argument” in recent weeks.

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“We have to stop the corporate greed that’s killing the middle class in America,” Edwards told a receptive audience Friday at the Colt Drum & Bugle Corps Center in Dubuque. “[I]f we elect another president appointed by the status quo — from either party — the middle class will fall further behind and our children will pay the price.”

Edwards “these are the stakes”-style rhetoric has all the high drama and stark either/or scenario of a strong summation in court; what’s as strong as Edwards’ message is this way he sends that message: in the context of a courtroom, with the citizens of Iowa empowered as nothing less than jurors.

Whether Edwards convincingly pulls off the Jimmy Stewart role — whether or not Iowans believe him and in him enough to give him a first unassailable campaign victory — remains to be seen, probably late Thursday. But the big mo is definitely with him, maybe enough to get him at least two cheers for the underdog. Or more.

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