When John Kerry stood up that Tuesday morning in Pittsburgh to make “the announcement,” a smile came over my face. It was a smile of hope and a small bit of pride. As I sat there in the car bewildered with euphoria, a recurring thought came rushing into my head over and over again.
I reflected on the day I arrived at the Waterloo Greyhound Station on a wintry November Iowa day. I had just come from working a yearlong internship in northern California. I was tired and weary from the long bus ride from Chicago. There was snow on the streets, sidewalks and sides of the monochrome buildings. A chilling arctic wind whipped the air. Flat, white fields pervaded the landscape. It was cold.
However, what happened in Iowa, in a state that is only really important to the rest of nation every four years, was something special. I remembered the blurb from the Chicago Tribune on the morning of Jan. 20: “Edwards, big boost in momentum.” It is that momentum, engendered on that night of nights in Iowa, that has carried him to the vice-presidential nomination.
As a member of Sen. John Edwards’ Iowa field staff, I knew that I had just played a small role in political history. Although some of the other campaigns touted their impregnable structure, in the end we showed that our structure was adroit and very good. The calculus of finishing in second place when completely counted out within two weeks of the caucus was something of a small miracle to the general public. But we knew differently.
I was optimistic but pragmatic about our chances. The strategy was to pick up enough momentum to finish third. We did far more than that. After the Jan. 4 debate in Des Moines and the endorsement from the Des Moines Register on Jan. 11, I knew Edwards’ star was rising. We had been around a while, and now we had the chinks.
On Jan. 17 we were amid something special. Nearly 650 Iowans and members of the press packed into the Waterloo Arts Center’s undersized auditorium for one last rally. The room was so electric you could feel the ions bouncing from person to person. When Edwards finally appeared after being nearly an hour late, he was given a rock star’s welcome. I then heard from a member of the advance team that we had leap-frogged into second place. My mouth dropped.
Any lingering doubt seemed to vanish. On the way back to headquarters, after tracking support at one of my precinct caucuses on Jan. 19, I waited impatiently for the first returns to come in. I had a car full of my volunteers from the University of Notre Dame. When it was announced that we were in second place, the car erupted. It was a major victory in survival of the fittest. It could not have happened without the self-sacrifice from everyone on the team.
We knew the job was far from over. One thing was certain; the suffusing message of “Two Americas” and positivism had won many fans. If not for the success in Iowa there would be no vice-presidential nominee named John Edwards. There would be no talk of “Two Americas,” and there certainly would not have been someone to take the mantle and fight for those in this country that need it most. There would be very little talk of fair trade and reinvesting in the average American.
It was his message and his ability to touch the hearts of so many different people that captured me. I remember him saying in Des Moines on caucus night, “We started a movement to save this country that will sweep across America… . Tonight, we begin it.”
To think that it all began in Iowa is incredible. It is an experience I will never forget.