Lessons Learned from John Edwards’ Iowa Campaign

On Friday, June 3, John Edwards, the former North Carolina Senator and two time presidential candidate, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, illegal campaign fund usage and making false statements. Click here to read the indictment. Edwards plead not guilty that day.

As someone who worked for Edwards during the time before the 2008 Iowa caucus, I am neither bitter, nor do I regret the hundreds of hours invested in his campaign. I can’t speak for the other Iowa volunteers who worked harder than I did, or for the paid staff I knew who traveled to Iowa to knock doors, organize volunteers and work on events. Politicians have flaws and I knew that going in.

During that campaign, some of us picked a guy who proved to be flawed in more ways than expected. We didn’t realize it then, but there are some lessons to be learned as the Edwards for President campaign enters its next phase: defense against felony charges.

Words spoken by Edwards in the 2008 campaign continue to resonate. He spoke of two Americas, one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of hard-working common people who are part of a vast majority. This message is more relevant today than ever. If another candidate spoke the same way about resolving the issue of “two America’s,” I might sign up again.

Next time, I would pay closer attention to which America the candidate claimed to represent. Edwards had his roots in common people as he continuously reminded us, “son of a mill worker,” etc. But he was more kin to those of wealth and privilege. The evidence is in the indictment: he spent money like he had it. The courts will decide whether it was his to use.

Another lesson. Judge a person by how they interact with you.

I met John Edwards on October 14, 2006 in Solon, Iowa at a fundraiser a group of us hosted for our state representative. Edwards was the first presidential candidate I had ever met and a cold fish. He had just returned from a trip to Uganda. The robocall he made to promote his appearance at the fundraiser sounded like it was recorded over a pay phone in Kampala. He had been working on a film called The Plight of Uganda with his mistress. After a few events with Edwards, he seemed more surface than substance. He began to remind me of some of my shirttail relatives, who lived in North Carolina, who say “God grant me one more coal boom and I promise not to piss it away.” Edwards now seems to be a schemer in that way, looking for something that was not going to happen, living life as he could. There were glimpses of this then, but I did not put the puzzle together.

In the end, I learned a lot about politics, about my neighbors and about character during the run up to the 2008 caucuses. I am grateful to John Edwards for that. I am more grateful for working with his staff and other volunteers… and especially for the time I spent with Elizabeth Edwards. She was not perfect either, but who is? Perfection is a lot to expect from politics.

~ Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa.

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2 Responses to Lessons Learned from John Edwards’ Iowa Campaign

  1. Anonymous says:

    I felt the same way after Nixon, Reagan & Bush Sr showed their true colors… but only after being in office. After being a Republican most of my life, I switched to vote for Jimmy Carter, but he was flawed in a different way. Despite being a peanut farmer, he imposed an embargo against shipping grain to Russia that devastated Iowa farmers. Canada & Australia picked up that third of US grain exports. He proved to be flawed in a different way – morally right but economically stupid.
    The media exposed Bill Clinton's sexual escapades but he was elected and re-elected anyway because… while morally challenged, Clinton was economically smart. GOP leadership seemed hell bent to sell the country down the river while spending inordinate amounts of the country's resources – time & money – to investigate and impeach Clinton.
    Newt Gingrich's 'family values' GOP campaign to retake Congress used Iowa poster boy, Jim Nussle, who's wife and 3 kids (one disabled) were left back in Manchester, Iowa. Much like Newt, once in Congress young Jim had an affair with a lobbyist whom he married; however, unlike Newt, Jim limited his wives to only 2. Iowa voters continued to send him back to Congress anyway!
    In 1996, I dumped the GOP and never looked back. As a registered Independent… a very cynical one… I voted for Al Gore, only to have the U.S. Supreme Court decide his fate over the people's wishes. Al Gore was flawed in much the same manner that Carter was, and might well have been economically stupid, too although the success of 'An Inconvenient Truth' says otherwise.
    In 2004, six editors of the Des Moines Register sorted out the Democrats & picked Edwards as “head and shoulders above” the rest. So I got Edwards' booklet outlining his positions, which likely was written by Elizabeth Edwards. For the first time since John Anderson ran on the GOP ticket in 1976, I actually went to a precinct caucus and discovered there were many supporting John Edwards.
    They most likely feel like I do now… even more cynical & hugely disappointed in SERIOUSLY FLAWED people who have the ego & financial support to run for political office. Anyone who thinks candidates aren't beholden to the big money interests needs to have their heads examined.
    Knowing they're ALL flawed to some degree, I can only hope that President Obama, whom I actively supported, is flawed only to the degree that he may still be addicted to smoking and teleprompters. Please, Lord, don't let it be otherwise.


  2. Anonymous says:

    I supported Edwards both times and met him once. It was the turning point. In late 2007/early 2008 I became a candidate for state representative and liked Edwards mainly because of his espoused views about money in politics, including public financing of campaigns, When I met Edwards, I introduced him to a colleague who shared our views, and I wanted to encourage Edwards to keep lighting a fire under this issue. This colleague, another elected state official, was pledged to another presidential candidate. When Edwards looked up, he recognized my friend, immediately looked away and struck up a conversation with someone else. That was the day I began to have doubts about John Edwards, and I eventually migrated my support to Joe Biden.


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