The Huey Longs of Iowa
The media’s version of the Iowa presidential caucuses is a story of five candidates and two rivalries. On the Democratic side, it is Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., against Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and on the Republican side it is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney against former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. But the numbers suggest the most compelling story is about two underdog candidates and one demographic: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), former Sen. John Edwards (D) and the middle class.
Huckabee gained 11 points in the latest University of Iowa survey, pulling himself into a statistical tie for second place with Giuliani, despite Giuliani’s national fame and huge fundraising totals. Similarly, Edwards remains within striking distance of first place in Iowa despite his rivals spending 300 times what he’s spent on television ads as of the end of September (Edwards launched his first ad last week).
What explains the unlikely rise of these two dark horses?
It’s the populism, stupid.
Huckabee and Edwards are the only two major candidates staking their campaigns on an indictment of economic inequality, corporate power and corruption. As the latest Democracy Corps poll shows, these are the very societal ills angering a middle class whose real-life struggles with stagnant wages, layoffs, debt, foreclosures and health care costs chafe against a pop culture and political system that glorify fabulous affluence. The country, in short, seems ready to embrace Huey Long’s “Share Our Wealth” ethos, and these two southerners are resurrecting the best of the famed Louisiana governor’s legacy.
Just look at the stump speeches.
“The most important thing a president needs to do is to make it clear that we’re not going to continue to see jobs shipped overseas, jobs that are lost by American workers, many in their 50s who, for 20 and 30 years, have worked to make a company rich and then watch as a CEO takes a $100 million bonus to jettison those American jobs somewhere else,” Huckabee said at a recent Republican debate. “That’s criminal — it’s wrong.”
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