CBS News Reporter Alison Schwartz is traveling with the Edwards campaign.
With the Iowa caucuses less than two weeks away, the John Edwards campaign is picking up its pace. From event to event, the North Carolina senator is aggressively working the room, talking directly to voters, and ultimately trying to win over the caucus-goers of Iowa. And despite the fact that he's lagging considerably in the polls, Edwards feels the energy and momentum of his campaign.
"History has seen this over and over. We couldn't feel any better," Edwards told CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts. "There's a huge momentum here in Iowa and other places. We were at event in Ottumwa last night and people were bouncing off the walls."
Bouncing off the walls is an understatement. At the VFW Hall on Tuesday night there were close to 150 people. The crowds were roaring and as Edwards press secretary Jennifer Palmieri said, "This is John Edwards Country."
While many of the folks in the crowd were supporters, there were also some undecided voters. It's those voters that Edwards needs to tap into in order to propel him to the next stage of the race – the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27. Edwards told Pitts that a strong finish in Iowa (he wouldn't say specific numbers) will help him in New Hampshire and then he anticipates a win in South Carolina, the state where he was born. This has been the strategy of the campaign and if they can pull it off, it would be quite a disappointment to the other eight contenders, especially Howard Dean who has been leading in the polls for some time now.
In his most recent stump speeches, Edwards talks about "two Americas" – one for the wealthy and one for everybody else. He constantly refers to the fact that President Bush is totally out of touch with reality, and contrasts himself by talking about his personal background growing up in rural North Carolina. That is not to say that Edwards is a small-town guy. He's amassed millions and millions of dollars as a trial attorney where he defended "the little guy" against the big insurance companies. While cynics may question the integrity of a mega-attorney, Edwards will tell you that he's proud of the work that he's done. "I won, I won, I won and I won," Edwards consistently says to voters. The message he seems to be conveying is that this guy is a winner.
And it sure would seem that way. Edwards was the son of a mill worker and the first in his family to go to college. In fact, the theme song of the campaign is John Mellencamp's "Small Town." In trying to show the obstacles he's overcome, Edwards constantly reminds voters that the thought of him going to college and becoming a lawyer seemed insurmountable when he was younger. But he went on to become one of the most reputable trial attorneys in North Carolina. And then there was his 1998 quest for a Senate seat. He went on to beat a Jesse Helms protégé and is now the senior senator from North Carolina.
What does all this mean? Edwards will tell you that despite the fact that he hasn't been in politics all his life, he's been "fighting this fight" his whole life. He often says to crowds, "Now let me ask you something. Do you really think that someone who has spent their whole life in politics can change America?" In unison the crowds exclaim, "No!"
So will the energy and enthusiasm in recent days translate into votes for Edwards? That is what remains to be seen in the coming days. And with such a short amount of time left until Iowans pick their candidate, the jury will be watching to see if Small-Town Edwards, Attorney Edwards and Senator Edwards are capable of becoming President Edwards.
By Alison Schwartz