RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And no state is more important to Senator John Edwards' presidential campaign than Iowa. He almost won there in 2004. Now, his longtime backers are faced with a choice: Do they stand behind him or go for a new face?
NPR's David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE: When John Edwards was running in Iowa four years ago, he was known as the nice guy in the race.
Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina; Presidential Candidate): If you are looking for the candidate who will be the best at sniping at the other Democratic candidates, I'm not your guy.
GREENE: Four years later much has been made of Edwards' transformation. He sounded harsher, a little more like a trial lawyer.
Mr. EDWARDS: Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes, just a few minutes ago. And I think this is a real issue for the country.
GREENE: That was at the debate a month ago. In the last few days, Edwards has returned to his former self.
Mr. EDWARDS: Thanks to all of you for coming, a terrific turnout, wonderful to see everybody.
GREENE: He walked into a motor lodge in Fort Madison, Iowa, and he said candidates just shouldn't be sniping.
Mr. EDWARDS: The problem is when politicians are fighting with each other particularly when it becomes just personal fighting, all of it is about them. They're not what matters.
GREENE: It certainly doesn't matter, Edwards said. If Barack Obama was writing that he wanted to be president when he was in kindergarten, that's a charge Hillary Clinton made. As for Edwards' take…
Mr. EDWARDS: Well, I have a confession to make and I'm sure I'm going to get attacked for saying this, but I will say it anyway. In third grade, I wanted to be either a cowboy or Superman. That's what I wanted to be.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: When Edwards is on his game, he can charm an audience, even as he lets loose with an angry populist appeal. He told the crowd of several hundred at the motor lodge that rich CEOs and big companies have built a wall around Washington.
Mr. EDWARDS: When are we going to stand up to this people? When are we going to actually take this democracy back and make it work for everybody? That's what we're talking about. If you - we got work to do.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: To win in Iowa, Edwards has to hold on to many of the caucus-goers who helped them finished a close second to John Kerry last time. That includes Mike Goldman who says Edwards could have been president in 2004.
Mr. MIKE GOLDMAN (TV Show Host): No, John Kerry, he gave it all he had, but he didn't have enough to carry forth. Edwards would have won that.
GREENE: As for this year, Goldman is wavering.
Mr. GOLDMAN: You know, it is the hardest decision I've ever made because between him and Obama, I could flip a coin.
GREENE: Goldman says he feels loyalty to Edwards but thinks Barack Obama has a better chance of competing with Hillary Clinton once the campaign moves on.
Mr. GOLDMAN: I think if Obama wins, New Hampshire independents are going to totally say this is enough and we're going to help you out, Obama.
GREENE: You Iowans really do a lot of…
Mr. GOLDMAN: Yeah, we do.
Mr. GOLDMAN: We do.
GREENE: Goldman came to the motor lodge with a family friend Carol Crop(ph). She's 67, retired. Her son was in the Army and came home wounded from Iraq last year. She too is deciding between Edwards and Obama. She says they both talk about ordinary Americans having a voice.
Ms. CAROL CROP (Resident, Iowa): Obama and Edwards, they're both giving us, trying to give us our lives back instead of shoving us in a corner. They want us to come back and be dignified.
GREENE: How do you make up your mind? Is it something one of them might say…
Ms. CROP: Yes.
GREENE: …or is it a gut call? Or - how does it work for you?
Ms. CROP: I gather, as soon as I hear what I want to hear in my heart, that's going to make a good president, then I will make that check.
GREENE: It's a check Crop knows she has to make soon.
Ms. CROP: But I still have a few more weeks yet. In the meantime, I'm just waiting for the birth of my 14th grandchild.
Ms. CROP: This right here. After that, after this one, then I can concentrate on more to get ready for the caucuses.
GREENE: Her granddaughter is due December 17th. Then, Crop says, time to focus on politics.
David Greene, NPR News, Des Moines.
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