I ARRIVE IN IOWA. IT'S FREEZING. I SEE JOHN EDWARDS.

Bear with me, readers, as I filter the Iowa caucuses through a first timer's eyes this week. I arrived today after a stopover in Detroit, only two hours delayed. From the plane, I looked down at the barren, snow-blanketed corn fields -- beautiful in their bleakness -- and the farmhouses a mile or two apart from one another.

I thought, "Wow, that one guy down there has a lot of power in picking the next president of the most powerful nation on Earth."

With a turn out rate as low as 3 to 6 percent, and a population that's 95 percent white, it's old news that Iowa's gargantuan impact on the nominating process can hardly be called democratic. And yet, I can't say I'm disappointed in Iowa Democrats' preferences this year -- they're bringing this race to a dramatic close, keeping John Edwards, who I am right now listening to at East High School in Des Moines, from becoming the also-ran the mainstream media told us he was for so long.

The crowd tonight numbered some 1,000 people, and my first thought, seeing the Iowa process in person, was just how different progressive politics looks out here than it does on the coasts, where I'm used to observing it. There's a big union turnout, of course -- the Steelworkers are out in force -- but this crowd is close to 100 percent white, and it's graying. Edwards' theme here, broadly, is the economy, from rejecting corporate lobbying and outsized profits, to protecting the American Dream, to working hard to make life better for one's children. There's no mention at all of Iraq, or Benazir Bhutto.

Edwards talks a lot about himself and his mill roots in this speech. It's a tactic, I think, that would be a weakness for him in the general election, when he'd face an opponent more than willing to call him out on stupid haircuts and ginormous mansions. But then there's Edwards' immense personal strength -- his family. When he began to speak about Elizabeth's breast cancer diagnosis, the ambient noise in the room dissipates, and you could hear a pin drop -- or a blogger typing. One woman in the audience is holding a sign that reads, "Elizabeth 4 First Lady."

Edwards segues into the story of the California girl who was denied a liver transplant by her insurance company, and died just as they reversed the decision. "You want me to sit down at a table and negotiate with these people?" Edwards shouts with incredulity, referencing the insurers. "Never!" The crowd loves that.

--Dana Goldstein

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