John Edwards on the Campaign Trail

And without the routine fanfare of cheers and booming tunes of John Cougar Mellencamp, Senator Edwards strode up the road. No aides or police and accompanied only two members from Local 1255. For once, the candidate was momentarily unnoticed by the majority. And in that moment of silent pause before applause, as one by one the press and crowd caught sight of him, Edwards was already smiling and walking with purpose.

That event and the Senator's demeanor are emblematic of a weekend orchestrated to play to his strengths. From a Savannah town square under a sunny Georgia sky and framed by age-old Magnolia trees all the way to a dismal afternoon event in front of the literally and symbolically locked factory gates in Niles, Edwards was as "on" as he has ever been, seemingly consumed in a quiet, focused confidence that seems all the more so juxtaposed against downright frenzied crowds.

He is riding a wave of warm reception doled out from the national media as well as welcoming crowds in Georgia, Minnesota and Ohio. Is this the honeymoon before the storm? Do overflow crowds of Deaniacs wearing Howard pins with John Edwards' signature scrawled on top in permanent marker mean the movement has a new map? Does the addition of a second debate before Super Tuesday mean the Senator's wishes are slowly but surely coming true?

As intent and impassioned the press corps is at the unpredictable business of predicting, a few things can certainly be counted as dependable factors in the equation. For one, Edwards has proclaimed the Governor a man for whom he has "great affection, great admiration and great respect … my friend, Howard Dean." This works with many who come to hear Edwards speak after realizing they may have heard the last from Dean himself, for now. One woman in St. Paul said she appreciated what Edwards had to say about Dean, liked him and what he had to say but would nonetheless spend her time "shopping hard" between the remaining four candidates. Other former Dean supporters gave Edwards two minutes of their time after waiting up to an hour before walking out of his event just after it started. Not because they did not like what he had to say. On the contrary, two minutes was enough to convince them he was their new guy.

In Iowa people wanted to touch John Edwards. They wanted to reach out and shake his hand or give him a hug or get his signature. They want the same in Minnesota and Ohio, in Maryland and Georgia. Trailing the Senator in crowds, one hears, "I touched him!" Body man Hunter Pruette is the unfortunate recipient of several people's aggressive attempt to get a signature on their Edwards signs. A popular crowd move is to hit Pruette on the head, thrust a sign into his hand and gesture madly with a pen. He accommodates as many as he can.

And Monday he will have help. As of 12:01 am ET Monday, Edwards is under the protection of the Secret Service. From now on between 10 and 15 agents will accompany the campaign as it heads to Georgia, Texas and California. No word yet on a code name, but it has been confirmed that the Senator will for the first time since he began his quest for the presidency be forced to compromise the one thing he is known to hold just about sacred. He will give up the solitude of his daily run. From now on, an agent will join him for every step of those five miles.

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