Aide: Edwards Campaign Doesn't End In Iowa

David Bonior, campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, speaks 19 September 2007 at a conference on obesity at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with David Bonior, the former House Democratic Whip and John Edwards' campaign manager, about polls, policies, and a new tone from the Edwards team. The national polls have consistently shown Senator Edwards a distant third. And yet, he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004. He's run for president twice now. People know who he is. Why do you think he's not more popular?

David Bonior: He is very popular. We have been campaigning in four states--Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. And we have a dead heat in Iowa. In New Hampshire, the polls are closing. We're within striking distance there.

The last two polls that I saw in South Carolina we were single digits from the lead. I think it's important to remember that our two main opponents are huge celebrities in America and have raised, well, probably over $200 million for this race.

And the reason John Edwards is doing well is because the people in Iowa, for instance, have seen him and heard his message. They will come out to caucus because they believe he is the best candidate with the best vision. And he will fight for issues that really matter to them. You talk about Obama and Hillary being celebrities, but three years ago most people didn't know who Barack Obama was. And people knew who John Edwards was. Can you stick to this message that they're celebrities and your candidate is not?

David Bonior: Well, I'll give you one example of the coverage in this race. And I don't mean to be too sour on the coverage. But the fact of the matter is if you look at the Annenberg Study from the University of Pennsylvania it'll show you that it's been weighed way in the direction of both Senators Obama and Senators Clinton and less for Senator Edwards.

And so that's part of the difficulty here. But where the candidates have actually appeared together--Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina--we are doing very well. We believe that we will win Iowa and do really well in New Hampshire. And that will change the dynamics of the race. Is the campaign over if you lose Iowa?

David Bonior: No. We have to have a very strong showing in Iowa. We understand that. But we have a great organization in the other early states. But we're not going to lose Iowa. We're going to win it. On the electability argument, Senator Clinton's people and Senator Obama's people keep bringing up this one point--and it's that Senator Edwards can't even carry his home state, that candidates don't usually win if they can't carry their home states.

David Bonior: Senator Edwards is the only candidate in this race that has won in a red state like North Carolina. That statement doesn't make any sense. He beat the Jesse Helms machine there. And he did very well as their Senator.

Running for senator in Illinois and in New York is a lot different than running for senator in North Carolina. A lot of political analysts, both in Iowa and elsewhere, have detected a shift in Senator Edwards' tone in recent weeks from a more combative, aggressive tone to a more positive, unifying tone--that the dominant message now is about "America Rising" as opposed to "Two Americas" which was the message a couple of weeks ago. Why has there been this evolution?

David Bonior: Well, you have to lay out the problem. And the problem is the two Americas. And he's done that. But you have to have a solution. And he has a solution to unite us, to bring us together, to provide opportunity for people who have traditionally been denied that opportunity. And so one logically follows the other. And there's nothing inconsistent at all about them. It's what he's been talking about for five years now. He's talked a lot about how he's fought against insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies that he says are too powerful in Washington. Are those companies part of the One America that he talks about as well?

David Bonior: The large, multinational, transnational companies have prevented us from becoming One America. They are the ones, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies, that denied millions of people in this country the right to healthcare.

And the oil companies have prevented us from moving on a more sustainable energy course. A new energy policy that will be compatible with the urgent challenges that we face with global warming. So these are folks that have stood in the way of the One America.

And it's one thing to talk with them. But somebody's got to stand up to them and fight for average people. And that's what John Edwards has done best. That's what he was born to do. That's what he did as a lawyer. He stood up for working people against big corporate interests. And he won on their behalf. And he will fight and he will win for them as their president. So as president, John Edwards would not talk to representatives of pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, oil companies and the like even though they employ millions of middle class Americans?

David Bonior: Well, I didn't suggest that he wouldn't talk to them. It's important for him to stand up to them. And sometimes to get their attention you've got to stand up to them.

There was a great civil rights leader by the name of A. Philip Randolph who said, "Justice isn't given. It's exacted." In other words, no one gives it to you out of the goodness of their heart--whether they're an oil company or a pharmaceutical or an insurance company.

If you want justice, you've got to fight for it. And that's what John Edwards will do. And that's a difference between John Edwards and other people in this campaign. But do you think Americans are tired of fighting in Washington and they want somebody who can bring people together?

David Bonior: They want somebody who can get the job done. And it requires someone standing up and being strong like Teddy Roosevelt was against the trusts and the banks and the monopolies. That's what they want.

If it takes somebody like Franklin Delano Roosevelt who stood up for working people when no one else stood up for them, that's what they want. When you take somebody like John Kennedy or LBJ who stood up for civil rights and human rights in this country, that's what they want. They want someone who will stand and fight for them. Experience has also been a big issue in this campaign. It's mainly been a discussion between Senators Clinton and Obama. But what do you think are John Edwards' biggest accomplishments when he was a senator?

David Bonior: John Edwards has been an incredible leader in this country. His positions on moving forward with jobs, affordable housing, universal healthcare. He's put together probably the best universal healthcare proposal out there in the country today. In terms of education, he wants to invest in teachers with higher pay and establishing national teachers' universities where we're involving No Child Left Behind. He hopes to invest more in our struggling schools… Sorry to interrupt, but what I'm asking is what legislation did he sponsor and get signed into law as a senator that you're particularly proud of?

David Bonior: I'm very particularly proud of the Patients' Bill of Rights. That was a major piece of legislation that gives the patients the rights to take on the multinational corporations, insurance companies, in dealing with their healthcare concerns.

David Bonior is campaign manager for John Edwards. He served for 26 years as a US Representative from Michigan, including 11 years as chief vote counter and strategist for House Democrats. His record in Congress was generally liberal, though Bonior was particularly noted for his opposition to free trade deals and abortion rights. Bonior left Congress to run unsuccessfully for Governor of Michigan in 2002. He graduated from the University of Iowa (of all places), received an MA from Chapman College in California, and served in the US Air Force. He is married with three children.

By Brian Goldsmith