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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

This morning we follow two presidential candidates who need to pull ahead if they hope to survive the early voting. We'll hear how Republican Fred Thompson has hit the road in rural Iowa. First to New Hampshire, where Democrat John Edwards is a distant third in the polls. He's aiming to turn that around from a little boost from Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.

NPR's Audie Cornish found all three onstage in Manchester.

(Soundbite of song "I Am A Patriot")

Mr. JACKSON BROWNE (Musician) and Ms. BONNIE RAITT (Singer): (Singing) I am a patriot and I love my country because my country is all I know.

AUDIE CORNISH: The sweet raspy tones of Raitt and Browne opened the event. But the music that accompanied former Senator John Edwards onto the stage was more insistent and a better reflection of the senator's recently retooled stump speech.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: This week, Edwards unveils an ad in New Hampshire titled Fight. And over the last few days of his tour, he's been working his theme of America rising.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina; Democratic Presidential Candidate): When we stand up for 47 million Americans who have no health care coverage, America rises. When we stand up for 35 million who went hungry last year, America rises. When we stand up for 37 million who live in poverty, America rises. When we speak for James Lowe and millions like him, America rises. And that rising will begin right here, with you, in New Hampshire on January the 8th.

CORNISH: Edwards tore into the soft underbelly of prosperity in America, talking about the sad state of hurricane-hobbled New Orleans, health care and education. Turning his gaze to the larger world, he talked of addressing global warming and promised to pull all combat troops out of Iraq within his first year, if elected.

Edwards says the response to his message is stronger than polls are showing.

Mr. EDWARDS: What I see happening now on the ground in New Hampshire and on the ground in Iowa is very similar to what I saw happening in the beginning stages about two and a half weeks out before the Iowa caucus. And what happens is people start to move, the energy builds and the momentum builds and it's happening. I'm not - this is not my imagination. It's different.

CORNISH: Edwards has opened at least three new offices in New Hampshire for a total of 12 and brought the number of paid full-time staff up to 80. Those numbers are half of what he's got in Iowa, but a sign the senator knows he must be in position to capitalize here if he wins there.

Back in 2004, he finished a promising second in the Iowa caucuses, then fell all the way to fourth place in New Hampshire. This time around he finds he still has fans from 2004, people who liked his Two Americas message, people like Nancy Beach(ph) of Portsmouth.

Ms. NANCY BEACH: I needed someone that would represent my progressive values, you know, being fiscally responsible but socially progressive. And right now I the - you know, and I hate to say the top three, but really in the top three Edwards is the only candidate that gives those of us who feel we're not listened to a voice.

CORNISH: On the other hand, there are still folks like Paul Martin of Hampton who doubt Edwards' viability.

Mr. PAUL MARTIN: The only reason I think Barack is along with Edwards for me is that Barack seems to be - has kind of momentum and I would like to see someone who can get in and can be voted in and will be an agent for change and won't polarize the nation like George Bush has and really kind of believe Hillary Clinton will do.

CORNISH: But Edwards can take heart from the way he's already convinced early doubters, like Linda Finkell(ph) of Rye.

Ms. LINDA FINKELL: Initially his position against corporations put me off a little bit, but I think you can't negotiate. You have to sit down and be very strong, and I think he'll do that. You need someone who will absolutely go to bat against the big corporations, and I think Obama is going to be too conciliatory.

CORNISH: This Granite State tour was just two days, but the candidate held half a dozen events, and the campaign is looking at returning the day after Christmas. It's hard to take time away from Iowa with the caucuses just two weeks away. But John Edwards knows better than most just how long the road to the nomination really is.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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