Spotlight Exclusives

Lessons Learned

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John Edwards ran a presidential campaign with poverty and economic justice at its heart when everybody thought that was nuts. He didn۪t care if it was good politics and everybody told him it was bad politics! He just believed it was the right thing to do. And now, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight over “Edwards voters” from Ohio to Texas to Pennsylvania, it۪s apparent that voters, especially the working and middle-class voters Democrats need to win elections, responded to the Edwards message. Which is a great gift to anyone who cares about economic justice because John Edwards۪s courage to stand up for what he believed revealed a surprising lesson poverty is good politics after all!

From day one of our campaign, we were dogged by skeptics in the media and the punditocracy. And by day one, I mean day one John announced that he was running for president from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans on December 28, 2006, and report after report was peppered with sentiments like this:

“Democratic political operatives remain skeptical that the Edwards message will resonate among either Democratic or independent voters.”

Last July, when he took the press corps off the campaign trail for four days to visit some of the poorest communities in America, they asked him questions like this:

“Can you really make people care about fighting poverty when it appears that Katrina and its aftermath didn’t?”

Somehow they managed to insult the compassion of the American people and the value of conviction in politics at the same time.

But despite the constant drone of background skepticism, voters heard John talking about the terrible shame of more than 30 million Americans living in poverty and they understood two things: one, a politician who has the courage of his convictions is a person I can trust; and two, someone who cares about the people who are struggling the most is someone who cares about me.

Now, I can hear the reaction to this (believe me, I hear it every day) “What do you mean it was a good message? You lost!” We lost because we were massively outspent by two terrific candidates and massively undercovered by a media obsessed with their celebrity. We were competitive through the campaign, and almost won Iowa, because of the message and the messenger.

So whatever your party, whatever your background, whatever you do, if you care about poverty and economic justice come on in, the water۪s fine.

Jonathan Prince served as the Deputy Campaign Manager for the 2008 John Edwards for President campaign.

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