Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Sunday defended his relentless assault on corporations and special interests, dismissing criticism that his pointed populist message is too divisive.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the 2004 vice presidential nominee argued that his oft-repeated theme would unite the nation and force a political realignment heading into November's general election. Edwards explained that he offered this argument during campaign stops in Iowa on Sunday to ease fears about his electability.
"I believe it's true," Edwards said. "It's not divisive at all, it's uniting. Most Americans feel that the economy, the government is not working for them because corporate greed and influence have far too big an affect on issues that affect their lives."
Edwards is locked in a tight race in Iowa with rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. He plans an intense blitz in the closing days before Thursday's caucuses that includes a 36-hour campaign marathon beginning Tuesday. He is subtly shifting his message to assuages worries about his viability for a general election by arguing that all voters feel the economic pain he talks about on the stump.
"It's important because it can unite the country, it's important because it can unite voters," Edwards said in the interview. "In a general election it also affects the ability to get elected."
United against 'corporate greed'?
In Iowa, he told voters: "The corporate greed that is destroying the middle class in this country is stealing your children's future. It is stealing the future of Democrats' children, independents' children, Republicans' children. I'm telling you this is a message and a cause that we can unite America around, we can unite America next fall."
Conceding it was the first time he had used the argument, Edwards stressed the theme as he swept through western Iowa.
"This is a message of change that will sweep across this country," Edwards said. "It doesn't just work in Democratic primaries and caucuses, it's a message that will be powerful in the general election next fall when I am the Democratic nominee."
Edwards is counting on a big boost in the opening caucuses as he faces better-financed Clinton and Obama. More to the point, Edwards said, he needs to energize the country to accomplish the main themes of his campaign.
"To get things done against these entrenched interests, you have to galvanize the country behind you," said Edwards. "I think it will work everywhere."
As he opened his campaign day in Boone talking to more than 400 people jammed into a cavernous room, he described the impact of the caucuses.
'Wave of change' promised
"On a cold January night in the heartland of America next Thursday night, you're going to stand up, you're going to rise," Edwards said. "There will be a wave of change that spreads from Iowa across America that cannot be stopped. It will move with a power that nobody has every understood, with a power that cannot be stopped."
As he swept through rural western Iowa, Edwards was hammering home the core theme of his campaign.
"What I learned in those 20 years is if you've got enough guts, if you're smart enough and you're willing to work, you can win," he said. "We have to recognize that is the fight we have to wage. America doesn't belong to them, America belongs to us. We have an epic battle ahead. Are we going to let this corporate power and corporate greed destroy the middle class in America?"
Edwards made his fortune as a trial lawyer. His wealth is somewhere between $12.8 million and $60 million.