DES MOINES — Embracing the legacy of a grandfather who “worked the graveyard shift… in the mills,” quoting Democratic icons Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and recounting the story of a teenage girl who died after being denied health care, John Edwards closed what has become a fiercely-populist Iowa caucus campaign with a roaring condemnation of war profiteering in Iraq and corporate abuse at home.
Sounding themes rarely heard from major candidates of either party in recent decades, the former senator from North Carolina attacked “the glorification of corporate profit” that would leave “children living on the streets and in cars while CEOs make billions and billions of dollars.”
“This is insanity, and it must stop!” shouted Edwards in a speech that attacked by name Blackwater, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil and other corporations. And the crowd of steelworkers, carpenters, nurses and family farmers — one of the largest assembled for any candidate during the course of the campaign leading up to Thursday’s caucuses — responded with wild applause for Edwards’ promise to break “the iron grip” of corporate power.
The crowd at the Edwards event numbered more than 3,000, roughly twice that assembled at Des Moines-area rallies Wednesday night for Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
Of course, Edwards had help. Singer John Mellencamp joined the candidate on stage at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. The popular performer, who helped to organize the Farm Aid concerts, drew plenty of wavering voters to the event.
Whether Edwards reached those sympathetic-but-uncertain voters will decide the fate of a campaign that will have a difficult time moving forward without an Iowa win.
There is little question now that Edwards and Obama are competing with one another for the votes of Iowans who want to nominate an agent of change. This week’s Des Moines Register survey of likely Democratic caucus goers found that voters were more interested, by a 2-1 margin, in selecting a candidate who would shift the direction of the nation than in choosing one who merely offers the promise of sound leadership.
Clinton’s got the clear advantage among those who are most interested in leadership skills. And she could still win with their support.
But Edwards and Obama are grabbing for the “change” mantle that each man believes has the potential to vault him into position to displace Clinton as the national front-runner.