DES MOINES, Iowa — John Edwards says he's more seasoned in his second bid for the presidency - understanding what a candidate should and shouldn't do - yet more passionate at the same time about the causes that drive him.
In 2004, Edwards was relentlessly upbeat and insisted he wouldn't criticize his rivals, and that brought him a surprising second-place showing in Iowa and helped boost him onto the national ticket. This time, some view him as more confrontational.
"I am exactly the same person driven by exactly the same things," Edwards said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. But he pointed to at least one difference. "There is a depth and a seasoning that makes me stronger and more passionate," he said. "It means I am enjoying myself."
Edwards noted that most surveys showed him trailing badly only a few weeks before the caucuses in the last election cycle, and he predicted the same kind of big movement in the closing weeks this time.
"I don't think anyone thinks this is a two-person race," said Edwards, who is in a tight contest in Iowa with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. "All you have to do is listen to caucus-goers at town hall meetings and it's obvious they think it is a three-person race and it's basically a dead heat between the three of us."
Edwards said he's learned from his previous campaign and "the key for me in the last month is the lesson of 2004. I've talked about what's wrong with Washington and now the key for me is to drive my positive vision for how we're going to fix it."
Edwards said his experience will show in the closing weeks.
"I think that what's true is I'm more sure-footed because of having been through this before," said Edwards. "I have a great deal of confidence both as a candidate and what I would do as president."
Edwards said that one lesson to be learned by Obama and Clinton is the quick falls of Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean, who led in the polls heading into the caucuses in 2004 but got into a vicious exchange toward the end.
"If you're talking about real substantive differences on big things, they think that's perfectly fine," Edwards said of Iowa voters. "When it's trivial personal things like this thing about Obama and what he wrote in kindergarten, they think that's silliness and they will not respond well to that."
The Clinton camp has been going back and forth with Obama's people about how long he's been wanting to be president.
Other political news of note
Clinton: Mandela's example 'went way beyond political leadership'
Recalling Nelson Mandela as a “profoundly good man” and “great friend,” former President Bill Clinton said Friday that the South African leader “set an example for how to live that went way beyond political leadership to the core of what life should be about.”
- Fasting for reform: Strikers starve over immigration
- Obamas to travel to South Africa for Mandela remembrance
- First Thoughts: Universal, bipartisan praise for Mandela -- when that wasn't always the case
- Washington wasn’t always united on Mandela
- Clinton: Mandela's example 'went way beyond political leadership'
Edwards did say he would take care to point out the differences he has with his Democratic rivals, but that wouldn't be his main focus.
"I have differences with these candidates and I'll say what those differences are," said Edwards. "But that's not my focus. What Iowa caucus goers are going to hear from me in the last 30 days is a focus more on my vision for America."
Though Edwards argued there are no differences between his two campaigns, that's not the perception of many observers.
"The problem with Edwards is having been that sort of fresh-scrubbed one out there who has evolved into a person who really wants it," said Linda Langston, a Linn County supervisor and prominent Democrat in Cedar Rapids.
Tom Courtney, a state senator from Burlington, agreed.
"I just see a different guy," said Courtney. "John Edwards has figured out this is his last shot."
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.