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Iowa's First Lady Backs Edwards

(CBS)
From CBS News' Aaron Lewis:

DES MOINES, IOWA -- Iowa's first lady threw her support behind John Edwards for the Democratic presidential nomination today in the Hawkeye State.

Mari Culver, wife of Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, told the excited crowd at the Temple for the Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines that Edwards was not only the most electable, but the most experienced.

"I believe John Edwards can win," said Mrs. Culver setting off an eruption of cheers from an estimated 350 supporters in attendance. "Not just the caucuses, but the general election, too. He's ready. He's been battle-tested. He's been through this before having been on a national ticket. I think these experiences give him a real advantage."

Edwards said he was proud to have the first lady's endorsement.

"Here's a woman who doesn't just talk the talk; she walks the walk," said Edwards, telling his supporters how he and Mrs. Culver had earlier today visited a homeless shelter in Des Moines. "When we walked in, the people there – people who ran the place, plus some of the families – recognized her immediately, said she was part of the household they knew her so well."

Mrs. Culver said her endorsement should not be taken as an indication of her husband's leanings. The governor is maintaining his neutrality in the caucuses.

Edwards told reporters that the endorsement was just one more step in the campaign's building momentum.

"It feels very familiar to me from four years ago," said Edwards in reference to his surge in the final days before the final days of the 2004 caucus in which he took a surprising second.

Edwards was asked by a reporter after the rally about Barack Obama, who again directly criticized Edwards earlier today, suggesting that he did little to fight special interests in Washington during his term in the Senate.

Obama said in Spencer, Iowa this morning: "Senator Edwards -- who is a good guy -- he's been talking a lot about 'I am going to fight the lobbyists and the special interests in Washington.' Well, the question you have to ask is: were you fighting for 'em when you were in the Senate? What did you do? Because I did something, immediately upon arriving in the Senate, despite the fact that it wasn't a popular position to take."

Edwards defended himself saying, "I respect Senator Obama enormously. He's a good man."

"But we do have a philosophical difference about this and I think it's fair for caucus goers to know it. I mean I have never ever ever taken money from lobbyists or PACs – not just in this campaign, but ever," continued Edwards. "And, secondly, I do believe that we have a battle – not against politicians – but a very important fight against drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, etc. And I think that we need a fighter that's ready for that fight."

CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic contributed to this report.