Campaign Diary

What About John Edwards?

On the eve of New Hampshire's Jan. 8 presidential primary, the Democratic and Republican candidates made their final appeals to voters.
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

National political reporter Joel Achenbach is set loose on the Granite State, as Tuesday's primary approaches.

11:47 a.m.

CONCORD -- What about John Edwards?

Since the Iowa caucuses, the news has been filled with the names Obama and Clinton, Clinton and Obama. You've got the fresh young senator from Illinois against the famous, long-controversial senator from New York. But what about that former senator from North Carolina, who, with less money than his rivals, came in second in Iowa (as he did in 2004) with nearly one of every three Democratic votes?

Edwards is one of the most ferocious campaigners on the trail. At one point, he campaigned 36 hours nonstop in Iowa. He had the earliest event Friday morning (6:15 on the schedule) and will stump all day today with hardly a break to prepare for the night's crucial debate. There is no margin of error for Edwards, no backup plan: He has to find a way to stay at the center of the primary narrative, despite the almost reflexive tendency of the news media to frame the race as Front-runner and Challenger.

At a Shriner's hall here this morning, Edwards walked in with his million-dollar smile, without any obvious hint of the fatigue so evident among some other candidates. He's disciplined on the stump, sticking not only to the standard themes but also using identical sentences, even identical stressed syllables, regardless of venue.

If there's anything new this morning, it may be the extra dollop of sarcasm that drips from his words when he talks about his chief rivals. For example, he took what sounded like a shot at Barack Obama's politics of hope, suggesting that it's naive to think that the entrenched special interests of Washington can be wooed into changing.

"You can't nice them to death. It doesn't work. They will drive through you like a freight train."

He mentioned a woman who had to raid her child's college fund to pay for a cancer operation.

"She needs more than a hug," he said.

Don't replace corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats, he said, because it won't make any difference -- an apparent shot at Hillary Rodham Clinton. The only change, he said, would be that "different people will go to the cocktail parties in Washington."

He twice jabbed the national news media for casting the race as a two-person contest, when, in fact, there are three leading candidates. Only late in his stump speech did he mention his two rivals by name.

"I'm going to be fine when this election is over. So is Barack Obama and so is Hillary Clinton. . . . The question is whether America will be fine."

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