ULULULULU! U.S. Troops Capture Saddam Hussein at ZZTop Concert. Celebratory gunfire heard in Baghdad, Tikrit and DemocraticUnderground: if he beats the rap, this really throw the nomination up for grabs.
Dem Campaign Heats Up As Saddam Tosses Hat In Ring
Des Moines, IA - Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his upstart "Straight Talk Jihad" presidential campaign completed the third day of a campaign swing across the Hawkeye State Friday, buoyed by a new Des Moines Register poll showing growing support among core Democratic voters.
The latest Register Iowa Poll of likely Democratic caucus voters, conducted between July 27 and July 29, shows Saddam leading the field with 23% support, followed by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean with 17%, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry with 16%, and write-in candidate Pol Pot with 8%.
Saddam showed even higher positives on specific key Democratic issue items, such as "the candidate who cares most about people like me" (46%), "most likely to stop the war" (59%), and "most likely to feed Donald Rumsfeld into an industrial shredder" (71%).
It was a heady showing for a political outsider who only entered the race five days ago, and only seven days after surfacing at ACLU headquarters in Washington, D.C. to request political asylum. When he announced his candidacy at an International ANSWER anti-war rally in Portland, Oregon Monday, he was widely dismissed as a dark horse.
Instead, the fiery Iraqi ex-president has proven to be a formidable force on the stump, attracting large and enthusiastic crowds of party activists and injecting life into the moribund race for the Democratic presidential nomination, forcing party rivals to defensively modify their messages.
From dark horse to frontrunner
At an AFSCME union 'town hall' meeting in Davenport Thursday, Hussein garnered foot-stomping cheers when he promised to "send the president-select and his cronies in Washington a message - I am going to put America to work again, bring the troops back home, and roast their infidel bellies in a sea of flaming blood."
Saddam has even displayed an unexpected folksy side on his trip through the Hawkeye hustings. At a campaign rally in Ft. Dodge later that same day, he noted, "I may be just a simple country boy from Tikrit, but I know a thing or two about how Bush and them big shot fellers in Warshington, D.C. operate. They make all kinda fancy promises and big talk, and pretty soon you're out of a job."
Stemwinders such as these are only part of the reason for Saddam's growing popularity among the Democratic faithful, according to veteran politicos.
"This is the one candidate in the field that has energized the core Democratic voter," said Stuart Rothenberg of CNN. "He is a true outsider, whose has the authentic 'street cred' and no-nonsense violent delusions that really appeals to the grassroots of the party."
Campaign expert Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia agreed. "If you look at his record, you will see that Saddam was way ahead of the curve insofar as Democratic issues are concerned," he said. "As early as 1989 he was strongly speaking out against US military intervention in the Mideast. On the war question, he makes Dean and the rest look like Johnny-come-latelys."
That perception had put several rivals off-balance, as they struggle to counter Saddam's appeal among the party base. During a televised debate at Iowa State University in Ames Wednesday, he deftly parried a question from Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt who challenged his compassion of the plight of working families.
"Mister Gephardt, I am the only candidate on this stage who knows, first hand, how the policies of the Republican Bush gang can destroy families, topple their statues, and leave them in financial ruin," he snarled to thunderous applause.
He also went on the offensive against Kerry, noting that, "while my good friend the senator may talk a good game, I actually know what it takes to implement a 110% flat tax rate."
Perhaps his strongest moment of the night came in a verbal free-for-all against Dean, when the two engaged in a 15-minute argument over which candidate had the stronger anti-Bush record.
Dean later appeared flummoxed when Saddam challenged him to detail his chemical weapons deployment platform. "My record on gassing Kurds is very clear, Howard. Yours is not. You are simply missing in action."
"That's not fair," responded a red faced Dean.
In a verbal coup de grace that drew laughter and cheers, Saddam said, "I knew Chemical Ali. I was friends with Chemical Ali. And Howard, you are no Chemical Ali."
The surprising strength of Saddam among heartland Democrats has created a strategic box for other candidates in the race. One rival campaign manager who requested anonymity grumbled, "It's hard to attack an icon," but promised that his candidate would soon be "unveiling a six-point plan to flay the flesh of surviving Bush administration officials after the election."
Another rival campaign manager who asked that his name not be used hinted at a possible coordinated negative campaign against Saddam, saying, "our opposition researchers have found evidence he may have once employed non-union guards, who were reportedly Republicans."
The Mothers Milk of politics
Whether a negative message will make a dent in Saddam's Democratic juggernaut remains to be seen, but it appears that it has - at least for now - forestalled plans for a last minute challenge from New York Senator Hillary Clinton or 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore. One reason may be Saddam's formidable talent at fundraising.
"He has amassed a reported campaign war chest of $300 million in unmarked Euros, along with a garage full of chemical-tipped scud missiles," said political expert Michael Barone of US News and World Report. "In addition, he is expected to raise another $100 million from the Trial Lawyers Association."
Saddam has also shown surprising prowess in leveraging 'new media' such as the Internet. A three-day online fundraising event held at progressive websites like BuzzFlash.com, DemocraticUnderground.com, IndyMedia.com and BartCop.com yielded over $500,000 in campaign donations and several hundred pledges of martyrdom.
A man of the people
A similar Saddam groundswell is palpable in Iowa. Like many of her compatriots in the Johnson County Democratic Party, Julie Baher has caught "Fedeyeen Fever."
"Saddam has so got it going on," Baher enthused during a Wednesday rally in downtown Iowa City. "I mean, like talking truth to power, opposing the war, roasting Bush's intestines and stuff. Men like him give you faith that the system can work."
"Plus he's, like, an authentic person of color and an undocumented alien, so you know he's like all down with the indigenous peoples," added Baher's boyfriend Wade Curran, 29. "Just like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky."
Caught up in the hoopla as Saddam strode on-stage, Baher and Curran joined the crowd in a throaty chant of "Thirty more years! Thirty more years!"
Such enthusiasm is far from universal, however. Some party members privately express concern that a Democratic ticket headed by a ruthless foreign dictator with genocidal tendencies may have unforeseen negative consequences for the party, a fear that Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe dismisses as "nonsense."
"Look, Saddam has a solid record of governance with over 25 years of leadership experience," said McAuliffe. "And how can you call someone 'unelectable' when they won over 99.7% in their last race? Bush is the guy who was never elected."
McAuliffe also said that Saddam supports several mainstream programs like, "repairing our damaged relations with the French, and building up American palace infrastructure."
McAuliffe added that Saddam could easily 'run to the center' if nominated. "He is a deeply religious man, which will really appeal with those Bible beaters out in Nebraskansaw and places like that."
"Look, we are a big tent, and represent the broad middle of American politics," the DNC leader explained. "We even have that one guy who sort of supported the war, what's-his-name," apparently referring to Connecticut Senator and former Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman, the only Democratic candidate still expressing support for the invasion of Iraqi, was unavailable for comment. He was last seen on a casino riverboat in Sioux City, playing "Nearer My God To Thee" on his violin as it slowly sank into the Missouri River.