Edwards Tries to Solidify Support in Iowa

Many who plan to attend Thursday's Iowa caucuses remain undecided about whom to back. While even those who've made a choice still seem open to a last-minute change. So Democratic candidate John Edwards pounds the campaign trail, hoping to lock in votes.

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And adding to the uncertainty about the outcome of Thursday's caucuses is the fact that many people who planned to attend remain undecided on which candidate to back. Even those who've made a choice still seem open to a last minute change.

NPR's David Welna followed John Edwards on the campaign trail this week as he tried to nail down support.

DAVID WELNA: It was icy with dense fog the other night in Sioux City. Still, 69-year-old Joy Thompson, who's never attended a caucus before, showed up for John Edwards rally because, like many other Iowans, she decided that this year she will caucus. But she's still shopping for a candidate.

Ms. JOY THOMPSON: I don't know. See, I'm right at the cut point where I just don't know.

WELNA: And what could Edwards say to make the sale for you tonight?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, he's - they've been calling, and so I just decided to come and listen. You have to start at some place.

WELNA: But the jury is still out.

Ms. THOMPSON: It is out.

WELNA: There were others who showed up at the Sioux City rally, it seems, just to show up, like Eric Newhouse, who admits Edwards is not his preferred candidate.

Mr. ERIC NEWHOUSE: It's Obama.

WELNA: Obama? But you came here to hear Edwards, anyway.

Mr. NEWHOUSE: Absolutely. Well, if nothing else, if he's going to come all this way - because so many millions of dollars and jobs and whatnot go into making these caucuses happen, this may be the last time we get to do this. I know a lot of the rest of country would may be we - rather we do this some other way, so, you know, it's the least we could do to show up and support anybody who comes out here.

WELNA: And there were others at this same rally who, too, backed another candidate. Sixty-eight year old Mara Sylvester was one of them.

Ms. MARA SYLVESTER: I'm going to caucus for Hillary.

WELNA: Really? And you're here to hear John Edwards a few days before the caucus.

Ms. SYLVESTER: Well, yeah.

WELNA: Why is that? Do you still have some doubts?

Ms. SYLVESTER: No, because he's my second choice.

WELNA: And Edwards himself nearly pleaded later with the crowd to seal the deal with him.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Senator, North Carolina; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm asking everyone who can hear the sound of my voice to go to the caucuses to caucus for me. Please take five of your friends with you if you can. And I'll tell you this: If you're willing to caucus for me, this is what I'll do for you. I will fight for you with every fiber of my being.

WELNA: That populous appeal from Edwards resonated with Kevin Pate(ph), a 47-year-old independent.

Mr. KEVIN PATE: It's between Barack Obama and John Edwards at this point. But I like John Edwards' enthusiasm and passion. I really do. That comes through it. Being here tonight, it really comes through.

WELNA: So you think it's possible you could caucus for him on Thursday?

Mr. PATE: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

WELNA: Fifty-nine-year-old artist Paul Chelstad is also an independent. For him, Edwards did seal the deal.

Mr. PAUL CHELSTAD (Artist): Should I say who I was for? I was for Biden. And I really like Biden, but I think Edwards would probably be more effective as an out - as more of an outsider. And after tonight, I think I'm for Edwards.

WELNA: At another Edwards stop in Storm Lake yesterday, as the candidate pushed through the crowd, he got buttonholed by retired farmwife Edna Grow(ph).

Ms. EDNA GROW: I wouldn't mind to hear your thoughts on what we can do about Pakistan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GROW: It's dangerous.

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, I'll tell you real quick. How about that? I talked to President Musharraf on Thursday. I put a call in, and he called me back. I've known him for years. I met him in Islamabad a few years ago.

WELNA: Still, that was not enough to sway Grow into making Edwards her first choice at the caucuses.

Ms. GROW: I am still starting out with Biden. He seems to have a little more foreign experience than John Edwards. But I'm sure I will end up with John Edwards.

WELNA: Less sure about that was 20-year-old college student Andy Berkler(ph), who, too, was at the Storm Lake rally.

Mr. ANDY BERKLER: And mostly just Obama and Edwards are the two that I can't decide between.

WELNA: Why can't you decide between them?

Mr. BERKLER: I'm just trying to find out what's going to put one over the top.

WELNA: Ultimately, Berkler said, it's a question of who's more electable - a question he's still struggling with.

David Welna, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa.

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