Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.
AP
Presidential hopeful, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., keeps reminding people he was wrong to vote for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq.
updated 3/9/2007 2:44:12 PM ET 2007-03-09T19:44:12

Sorry seems to be the hardest word, unless you're presidential contender John Edwards trying to claim a top spot in the 2008 Democratic field.

While politicians campaign on their successes, the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee keeps reminding people he was wrong to vote for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq.

His reason is twofold. He's indirectly criticizing front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also voted for the resolution but has refused to say that it was wrong. He's also trying to distinguish himself as a straight talker who belongs at the top of the race with attention-grabbing rivals Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

Edward's straight talk strategy
"You're entitled to not agree with me, but you will know what I stand for and you will not get politician double-talk," Edwards told about 150 New Hampshire voters gathered recently in a state senator's living room and kitchen.

Edward's approach is reminiscent of Republican Sen. John McCain and his "Straight Talk Express" campaign in 2000 and President Bush, who used a similar pitch during his campaign in 2004. "Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand," Bush said to cheers at the Republican National Convention.

The Iraq factor
Part of Edwards' strategy is to draw clear lines on top issues. On Iraq, he's calling for a gradual reduction of troop funding to bring combat forces home within 18 months. On health care, he said he'll provide insurance coverage to all Americans even at the cost of raising taxes - a step he readily acknowledges he would take.

"The whole idea for me on these big issues like Iraq and health care, I want to lead, not follow," Edwards said in an interview with The Associated Press when he announced the insurance plan.

The current version of John Edwards is far different from the 2004 brand. Then, he stood by the Iraq war, promoted middle-class tax cuts and focused on child health care insurance. He also won only one state, his native South Carolina. He has criticized his consultants for trying to make him too scripted but says he's not led by them anymore, although he retains several on his staff who have helped him retool his message.

'Liberal Democrat' problem
North Carolina Democratic campaign consultant Brad Crone said he sees Edwards as a better candidate because he's been through the process once, but he argues that Edwards' move to the left could prove problematic.

"His efforts to establish credentials as a liberal Democrat will hurt him when he comes back South," Crone said.

Before he gets to the South, Edwards has to create the momentum for his candidacy by winning the Iowa caucuses, hardly an easy task. In 2004, Edwards lost the state by just 6 percentage points and never could catch up to Sen. John Kerry.

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"He learned a great deal last time around, including that if you are going to be successful in these early states he's got to be spending time here," said Des Moines lawyer Rob Tully. "I think that a lot of his base is still there. I think if there is any strain at all it is from the gaga factor of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."

Proposals with details
Edwards, who has been to Iowa more than any other state, campaigns in the state Friday and Saturday.

Edwards spends most of his waking hours trying to raise money for a first-quarter fundraising report that will keep him financially competitive with Obama and Clinton. He's working with economic advisers on upcoming speeches that will lay out business proposals that will aid his pursuit of union support.

Expect the proposals to include plenty of details as Edwards tries to make specifics his trademark. During his last visit to New Hampshire, Edwards warned his audience to be wary of rivals who comes through the state making promises without saying how they will pay for them.

"If somebody comes and says they are going to create universal health care and it's not going to cost anything, they may have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, too," Edwards said. "I'm going to tell you my plan is not cheap." Specifically, he said, it will cost $90 billion to $120 billion.

'I voted for this war'
He encouraged the New Hampshire voters to ask about Iraq. "Honestly, if you don't bring up Iraq, I'll bring it up," he said. A woman gave him his opening when she asked about what he would do to scale down the war.

Before he answered her question about the future, Edwards began with his past regrets.

"I suspect some in this room know this already - maybe everybody - I voted for this war," Edwards said. "I should not have voted for this war. I was wrong to vote for it. I have to take responsibility for that, and I do."

Democratic voters are overwhelmingly anti-war, and those in the party who supported Bush's invasion are taking heat. Edwards has said whether Clinton wants to disavow her vote is "between her and her conscience."

He makes it clear that his conscience has led him to apologize. And voters, he says, understand that presidents sometimes make mistakes.

"They want you to tell the truth when you believe you've made a mistake and they want you to be willing to change course when something's not working," Edwards said. "I'm proud of the fact that I've been honest about my vote."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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