Throughout last week's 8-day bus tour through Iowa and the subsequent two-day series of concerts in New Hampshire, John Edwards staffers pointed to the increased crowd sizes as the sign of momentum building within the campaign.
And, indeed, we saw some impressive turnouts in places like Mason City, IA and Manchester, NH. But it begs the question: how many in those audiences would have showed if Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne weren't the headliners?
Edwards himself told reporters just a couple weeks ago that celebrity appearances work to the extent that they expose the candidate to folks who normally wouldn't come to hear him or her stump. And to the campaign's credit, those same large audiences stuck around past the celebrity performances to listen to Edwards speak passionately about "America Rising" to fight corporate power and wealthy interests.
In between these star-studded shows, however, at events in towns like Dover, N.H. and Ottumwa, Iowa, Edwards conducted his standard town hall meetings with turnouts no larger or smaller than what we've witnessed in the last several weeks. It's a delicate reminder that no actors or rock stars will perform at local precincts on caucus or primary night. Instead, the only drawing power will rest in the extent to which the candidates can inspire and motivate their supporters.
Perhaps that's why these next three days in Iowa will be a stronger indication of the Edwards campaign's momentum. Without a big name headliner, we know that the crowds will show up at these final events before Christmas because either A) they're dedicated Edwards supporters, or B) they're undecided and/or curious enough to hear his case for the nomination.
In any case, you know that the caucuses in just two weeks - and not whether or not Kevin Bacon will actually play 'Footloose' - are on the minds of these attendees. So, an argument could be made that a turnout of 300 today in Sioux City would be more significant than the 700 we saw at the concert last week in Mason City.
But that's not to say we'll be without a sort of figurative rock star on this trip. Joining Edwards these next three days is James Lowe. Those who have followed this campaign know Mr. Lowe's story well. Edwards gets visibly fired up whenever he tells it (and he's quite possibly told it hundreds of times). So it should be interesting to see how worked up he gets when Mr. Lowe is seated just a few feet away. It goes like this:
Back during the Poverty Tour in July, Edwards met Lowe, who told about having a cleft palate that kept him from being able to speak. Unfortunately, Mr. Lowe did not have enough money or insurance to pay for the operation to fix the condition. Finally, in a gesture of goodwill, a doctor fixed Lowe's cleft palate - when he was 50 years old.
"James Lowe found his voice," Edwards frequently tells his audience. "Now it's time for America to find theirs."
For the next three days, at least, Edwards hopes James Lowe's newfound voice resonates louder and stronger than any rock star's ever could.