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updated 10/10/2007 3:56:55 AM ET 2007-10-10T07:56:55

In his latest swing through Iowa, John Edwards traveled hundreds of miles past pastures and cornfields to small towns, where he shook hands, smiled for photographs, signed posters and spoke on topics like Iraq and health insurance.

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But at a forum at McKinstry Elementary School in Waterloo, a woman asked why he was not on television.

“Hillary and Obama have been having quite a lot of ads on TV,” the woman said, “but I don’t see a lot of ads for you. And I am just wondering are you just sort of coming in under the radar?”

The question highlighted Mr. Edwards’s challenges as he campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although his competitors have spent millions of dollars on television advertising, Mr. Edwards has yet to start his own advertising blitz. Instead, at forums, fund-raisers and barbecues, he has courted caucus voters here, as he did on a four-day swing that ended on Monday.

“I think both of them have spent millions of dollars on television,” Mr. Edwards replied to the woman. “But if they don’t spend most of their time answering your questions, they are not ready to be president.”

For effect and necessity
Mr. Edwards’s grass-roots effort has been as much for effect as necessity. With $7 million raised in the third quarter, a third of the sum raised by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Mr. Edwards’s campaign is pacing itself.

“We are absolutely up against two media giants in Senators Obama and Clinton,” the press secretary, Mark Kornblau, said Thursday, when the campaign was in Columbus, Ky. Columbus won a visit in an Internet contest.

“We have to do everything we can to capitalize on our grass-roots support and be creative,” Mr. Kornblau said.

Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer and one-term senator from North Carolina who campaigned for president and then vice president in 2004, has built an extensive operation in Iowa, with 15 field offices and a staff of more than 100.

He has spent 46 days in the state since entering the race, compared with 45 days for Mr. Obama and 35 for Mrs. Clinton, according to his staff’s tally. He returns to the state for another four-day tour at the end of the month.

Although Mr. Edwards was ahead in polls over the summer, a Des Moines Register Poll on Sunday said 29 percent of likely caucusgoers preferred Mrs. Clinton, 23 percent preferred Mr. Edwards and 22 percent preferred Mr. Obama.

“What it looks like to me is there are three of us that are very competitive with each other,” Mr. Edwards said when asked about the race. “They have spent millions of dollars on television advertising. It is a little more difficult to figure out what is going on with me, because I haven’t spent any money on television advertising.”

He will, he said, through the caucuses.

“But I think what is much more important to Iowa caucusgoers is seeing you in the flesh,” Mr. Edwards added. “Seeing you stand before them, look them in the eye and answer their hard questions.”

And so he did, at 17 events in Iowa and one in Kentucky. Some 80 to 120 people turned out on Friday at a lumberyard, a bank branch, a restaurant and a university. About double those numbers went to events in school auditoriums.

Rural roots
Over and over, he reminded people of his rural roots. Wearing jeans and collared shirts, he often stood at the center of a circle of metal folding chairs with his hands on his hips, his head tilted slightly as he listened earnestly to questions.

“I do run for president on behalf of the men and women who worked in the mills with my father,” he said in Waterloo.

Frequently interrupted by applause and an occasional amen, he described how he would end combat missions in Iraq, finance a universal health care plan, support a $9.50 hourly minimum wage, help family farms and strengthen unions.

As part of his populist message, he also attacked the “system” in Washington, pointing to the influence of lobbyists and insiders.

He repeatedly criticized Mrs. Clinton for her vote on a Senate resolution that described the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, saying it empowered President Bush’s ability to go to war.

But as if to take away the critical tone, he praised other candidates, Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, for voting against it.

Mr. Edwards said the race was far from over.

“I have got my people,” he said, “and some of the other candidates have their people. And then there is a big group of people who are soft or undecided.”

Many Iowans, though, are likely to remain undecided to the very end. Some like Susan and Bob Runkle, who caucused for Mr. Edwards in 2004, said they would not decide until they were exposed to as many candidates as possible.

“We are aiming toward him, but we have got to get a feel for the whole person,” said Mrs. Runkle, who was knitting as she waited for Mr. Edwards in Waterloo.

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

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