John Edwards on the Campaign Trail

While Edwards' message on the trail has changed but little (Iowans are "blunt" while New Hampshire residents are "direct" but both have taught him a thing or two) staff discussions off the trail have been entirely revised. At one time the campaign was looking to make "the best of bad situations" in the first two battle ground states: a Gephardt loss in Iowa followed by a Dean win in NH would have taken the son of a milkman and Senator Kerry off the playing field, clearing the way for a "Dean alternative" (remember that phrase?) to emerge down South.

No more. Now begins a bit of wait and see, although time is short and the campaign is itching to see their guy get in the debate ring. Campaign strategy remains based on promoting their "optimistic message of hope" and as always, do not expect to see John Edwards attack his rivals. Respond to attacks, yes, but there will be no first punch from this campaign.

What to put on the air and when to do so remains in flux. "Believe" and "Two Americas" are on the air right now in the major markets, but what political ad aficionados are on the lookout for is another glimpse of "Now" - the Iowa closer ad featuring no voiceover until the tag line and instead of script a visual-text montage chronicling the "Edwards experience" over time.

Out on the trail the Senator, travel staff and core travel press were all a bit weary after the post-Iowa all-nighter. Switching gears from the Hawkeye to the Granite state seems to have left the on the road campaign team a bit wistful for that warm Iowa buzz. Why is it hard to trade the overflow crowds in Iowa behind for the decidedly undecided (but still overflow) crowds in New Hampshire? Attribute it to stellar work of field guru Jen O'Malley and deputy field guru Joanne Salazo, whose names were on everyone's lips Monday night as one reason Edwards' Iowan-to-Iowan strategy worked the way it did. Attribute it to the way crowds caught on, the Des Moines Register's endorsement or that thing called mo'. Whatever the reason, that certain something that had crowds and candidate on fire in Iowa has yet to arrive here in New Hampshire.

The Moment

MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 19 — Sometimes it is hard to acknowledge a "moment" as it is happening. But on caucus night in Iowa as the very first indications of a possible second place finish reached the Senator and his wife in their suite at the Savery Hotel in downtown Des Moines, John Edwards was certain about one thing. This was his moment.

Asked if it was the biggest night of his political career, the Senator did not hesitate for a flash. "Of course," he said rather gravely.

At 8:15 pm a small group of reporters met with the Edwards' in their suite, where the mood in the room was anticipatory and tense. The Edwards' sat side by side glued to C-SPAN, leaning forward toward the television with hands clasped in their laps. Campaign manager Nick Baldick said that in the run up to Monday, there were hopeful discussions of a close third place finish. Conventional and heavily touted spin would have had even a fourth place finish declared a victory, and not without justification. It was only one week ago the campaign celebrated the Des Moines Register endorsement by telling reporters it help them convince Iowans to take Edwards' candidacy seriously.

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