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Edwards Takes Advantage of Enthusiasm in Iowa


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen. This may come as a shock to you if you're not closely following presidential politics. But there are other Democrats in the race for the White House besides Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. John Edwards, for example, the former Senator from North Carolina sought the nomination in 2004 and wound up as the party's vice presidential candidate. Now that Edwards is running for president again, he's spending a lot of time in Iowa. He's there this weekend, and so is NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's covering his campaign. He joins us. Frank, what has John Edwards been doing this weekend?

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, he's been coming and seeing smaller groups, maybe 250, 300 people, been in senior centers over at the western edge of the state in Sioux City, Council Bluffs. And the crowds have been warm and enthusiastic. The lines outside the door sometimes - in one case all the way out to the street. And one of the things that he's trying to do is really differentiate himself from these two other candidates that you mentioned.


He's the first one in the Democratic field to roll out a universal health care plan. And he says the way he wants to pay for it is by repealing the Bush tax cuts on people earning over $200,000 a year. So as he did when he first came here to Iowa a number of years ago, he's striking very much an economic populists note.

HANSEN: So Iowa voters think he actually stacks up pretty well with Obama and Clinton.

LANGFITT: It's interesting. They've seen a lot more of Edwards than they have of Obama and Clinton. He's been here 19 times since 2004. And it seems like - his campaign says about four times in just the last couple of months. And I think that his strategy for dealing with the star power of these two other people is to go very much towards the retail politics for which the state's really well known. And so he's shaking a lot of hands. He's taking a lot of questions at these forums. When people look at the other candidates, one of the things they like about Edwards is they say he has more experience than Obama, who of course has only been in the Senate a brief period of time, and that he doesn't have the baggage that Mrs. Clinton brings from her time as a First Lady. But they're also concerned as to how he can keep up with them because they're getting so much attention. And of course they have the ability to raise a lot of money.

HANSEN: John Edwards did very well in Iowa the last time. He finished a very close second to John Kerry in 2004. What have you noticed about Iowa voters? How do they compare the Edwards of today with the Edwards they saw in 2004?

LANGFITT: Well, they say he's a lot more self-assured and more confident than he was as a candidate. You know, he'd never run for a national office before. And I was talking to Teresa Wolff; she's a chairwoman for the Woodbury County Democratic Party over in Sioux City. And she described the first time she encountered Edwards.


Ms. TERESA WOLFF (Woodbury County Democratic Party): The first time I heard him talk, his speaking skills were not the greatest. Actually, when he gave his speech, I thought oh my gosh, who did they send here, you know, because the guy can't talk at all and he wants to be president.

LANGFITT: But you know, now she says he's really developed over the years. He's much more charismatic and better on his feet. And I saw some of that this time around. He seems to pivot really well between foreign and domestic policy issues. So people say that they know him better and he's a stronger candidate than he was.

HANSEN: So what sort of chances do Iowa voters give him?

LANGFITT: Well, they think he's got a real uphill battle against these two other figures. And some political observers that I spoke to think that one of his best bets may be that one of them, the other candidates, makes a big mistake.

HANSEN: NPR's Frank Langfitt. He joined us from Iowa. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: You're welcome, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.