Much was made of Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s superb speech to a huge crowd of Iowa Democrats at the mid-November Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines. Without a doubt, it helped to propel Obama ahead of New York Senator Hillary Clinton in polls conducted in the weeks after the event.
But Obama’s speech in November may not turn out to be the definitional statement of the fight for Iowa.
What could turn out to be the most critical comment of the campaign came from John Edwards in the last debate between the Democratic contenders — and the former senator from North Carolina may well claim the caucus-night victory that is the reward for delivering the right message at the right time.
It wasn’t a great rhetorical flourish. It wasn’t even a new statement. Rather, it was a particularly pointed and effective restatement of the core anti-corporate message of his campaign.
But it came precisely when Iowa Democrats were getting serious about the caucuses. And it gave Edwards the boost he needed to get back in the competition — and, he is, very much in the competition now.
No serious observer of the December 13 debate in Des Moines doubted that the standout performance, and the standout message, was that of Edwards.
Indeed, undecided voters assembled in focus groups that watched the debate for the major television networks rated Edwards off the charts. That’s going to help the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president as the Iowa caucuses approach. Despite the intense focus on the campaigns of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, most polls suggest that Edwards is very much in the running in Iowa. And rightly so.
To a far greater extent than Obama or Clinton, Edwards has struck at the heart of issues that should matter most in the race to replace not just George W. Bush, but the Bush agenda of corporate giveaways, job-crushing free trade deals, war profiteering in Iraq, and subprime mortgage profiteering in Indiana, Idaho, Illinois and, yes, Iowa.
Edwards summed up his increasingly aggressive and powerful anti-corporate themes with a declaration: “What makes America America is at stake: jobs, the middle class, health care, preserving the environment in the world for future generations.
“But all those things are at risk. And why are they at risk? Because of corporate power and corporate greed in Washington, D.C. And we have to take them on. You can’t make a deal with them. You can’t hope that they’re going to go away. You have to actually be willing to fight. And I want every caucus-goer to know I’ve been fighting these people and winning my entire life. And if we do this together, rise up together, we can actually make absolutely certain, starting here in Iowa, that we make this country better than we left it.”