A Populist in the Heartland
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has bet his campaign on winning early in the primary season, and no place is more important to him than Iowa. He hasn't stopped running there, he says, since he finished second to John Kerry in 2004's first-in-the-nation contest. Though consistently in third place nationally behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the former North Carolina senator has had outsize influence on his opponents, staking out aggressive positions on issues from providing universal healthcare to rejecting contributions from lobbyists. During an Iowa bus tour last week, with his wife, Elizabeth, at his side, Edwards sat down with U.S. News.
What is your plan for Iraq?
I would draw down 40,000 to 50,000 [troops] immediately. I'd take them largely out of the north and the south. I would begin a steady redeployment of combat troops out of Iraq so they were all out in nine or 10 months. I would say to [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the Shia-led government that we're leaving. We're going to help you, but you need to reach a political compromise. I would send the secretary of state to talk with Iran and Syria and other countries in the region to get them engaged to help stabilize Iraq as America leaves. The Iranians, the last thing they want are a million refugees coming across their border, and they also don't want a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni.
How would you confront the significant issues with Pakistan?
In the short term, we want to ratchet up pressure on [Gen. Pervez] Musharraf, and we have huge leverage because of all the aid that Pakistan receives from America. We ought to use that leverage and force him to aggressively go after al Qaeda. If I had actionable intelligence on where [Osama] bin Laden was, I would go get him, wherever he was.
Has your campaign moved from an emotional appeal to Iowa voters that proved effective in 2004 to a more cerebral, issues-oriented approach?
I think it's the opposite. I think what you're seeing from me now is coming, all of it, from here [touches heart]. It is true that I have very specific, substantive policy proposals that caucusgoers insist on. And that is a distinction from 2004. But when I talk about the outrage that I feel, there is nothing intellectual about that. It's very real.
What do you make of polls that, for the first time, show you not leading in Iowa, where you've staked your success?
I know from having been through this that I start from a very strong position, but you have to be able to maintain the belief that you are ready to be president and that you're the strongest candidate for the general election. We know how to run in Iowa, and we know how to run in New Hampshire, because I've done it.
Why would you make a better president than Senator Clinton or Senator Obama?
I have a long history of taking on these entrenched interests and beating them. There's a difference in the way that I would achieve change versus Senator Obama. Which is I don't believe you can compromise and negotiate your way to change. I think you have to stand up and fight. These people will not voluntarily give away their power.