John Edwards tried to put the best face on a disappointing loss in the Iowa Democratic caucus, but vowed a vigorous campaign against winner Barack Obama in New Hampshire.
“The status quo lost and change won,” Edwards told a crowded ballroom of supporters. He said he would go to New Hampshire, which votes Tuesday, “to determine who’s best suited to bring about the change this country so desperately needs.”
The former North Carolina senator made clear that he will portray himself as more willing than Sen. Obama of Illinois to battle the “corporate greed” that Edwards has condemned repeatedly.
“Thank you for second place,” he said, taking solace in edging out Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
The crowd cheered loudly, but Edwards, 54, faces multiple challenges. He has less campaign money than do Obama and Clinton, and Iowa was seen as his best hope for a key early victory.
He now must convince voters that his second-place finish makes him a front-line contender, even though he took 32 percent of the caucus vote in 2004 when he first ran for president, and 30 percent Thursday.
Edwards and his top advisers indicated they will try to ignore Clinton and portray their campaign as a better option than Obama’s for those wanting a sharp change from eight years of the Bush administration.
“I think the change agent is compelling this campaign,” Edwards campaign manager David Bonior told reporters.
Campaign heavy on populism
Edwards’ speech echoed his basic stump speech, heavy on populism.
“Corporate greed has got a stranglehold on America,” he said. The nation needs a president like Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman “who will stand up to these people,” he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Edwards said, “we were grotesquely outspent in Iowa, five-to-one, and the fact that I’m as strong as I am now under these circumstances indicates that this message of change and standing up” and “fighting for the middle class and jobs really matters.”
“I’m going to fight for that change,” he said by telephone from his hotel room. “I’ve fought for it my entire life. I have a long history of fighting powerful interests and winning.”
In the Iowa campaign’s closing weeks, Edwards increasingly focused on what he sees as the anxieties and resentments of working class voters. He seemed eager to show an anti-corporate passion that bordered on anger, saying he learned as a trial lawyer opposing big companies’ representatives that “you can never ’nice’ these people to death. They’ll run through you like a freight train.”
He did not reprise his “Two Americas” theme from 2004. But he recited some of its key claims, which some economists dispute to varying degrees. Trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement have cost “millions of American jobs,” Edwards said at most stops in Iowa.
He said 47 million people have no health insurance, and 37 million live in poverty and often “didn’t have enough food to eat.”
Edwards generally offered vague remedies to these social problems. He suggested he would force major insurance and pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices, make oil companies accept lower profits and end tax breaks for companies with offshore operations.
The populist focus may have hurt him at times. Cedar Rapids resident Terra Sykora was considering Edwards as of Thursday afternoon, although her first choice was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
“I hear a lot of him talking about corporations and profits,” Sykora said of Edwards, with some obvious distaste, as she waited for campaign literature at his Cedar Rapids office. She said she wanted to hear more about his environmental stands.
Many Iowa Democrats seemed torn between Edwards and Obama as an alternative to Clinton. Those who leaned toward Obama often cited his freshness on the political scene, a trait that described Edwards in 2004.