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Edwards's 5-Year Iowa Campaign Draws to a Close

John Edwards awaits Iowa's verdict. (Getty Images).

By Peter Slevin
DES MOINES -- Unable to outspend his rivals or build a larger turnout operation, former North Carolina senator John Edwards did his best to outwork Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the final day of his five-year campaign to win hearts in Iowa.

Edwards staged rallies in three Iowa cities, repeating his anti-corporate, anti-Bush message while Clinton and Obama stayed low-key and close to their Des Moines homes-away-from-home. In the hours before the caucus doors opened, Edwards urged supporters to call their friends and make it to the caucuses on time.

As his advisers awaited an outcome impossible to predict, they felt glad to be in a three-way fight that most of the political cognoscenti considered a straight Clinton-Obama duel just a couple of weeks ago.

Edwards stayed fiery and campaigned relentlessly.

Two hours before the caucuses began, one adviser predicted Edwards was "looking at first place or a very close second place finish."

"Sometimes," the adviser said, "we look at each other and say, 'How are we still standing?'"

Edwards, who finished second here in 2004, has been an unlikely underdog. He held his first campaign event in Iowa in February 2003, then did well enough later to become Sen. John F. Kerry's vice presidential nominee.

When the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost narrowly and he found himself out of office and out of a job, Edwards simply kept campaigning. He returned over and over to Iowa to build what he hoped would be unstoppable momentum toward the 2008 nomination and the presidency.

But along came Clinton and Obama to stop his momentum before it started.

Until just weeks ago, Edwards was stuck in a sturdy but unbudging third place in the polls. He suggested to audiences that Clinton was too beholden and Obama too callow, and he kept pounding away on his anti-Bush, anti-corporate messages.

The crowds grew and he inched up in the polls.

"They threw $20 million each, Bill Clinton and Oprah, and a couple of kitchen sinks at him," communications director Chris Kofinis said this afternoon, "and not even that could stop him."

Edwards is betting on Iowans feeling reassured by his familiarity and inspired by his vow to fight all comers. Targeting caucus veterans, his advisers' principal concern has been the possibility that record numbers of Iowans would caucus -- and support Clinton or Obama.

After a 36-hour campaign marathon and Thursday's three events, Edwards took a short break to await the results. It is the only rest he is likely to have any time soon. His press charter is scheduled to fly overnight to New Hampshire, where he will have plenty of company.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 3, 2008; 7:50 PM ET
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