MILWAUKEE – Presidential hopeful John Edwards (search), seeking to connect with displaced workers in Wisconsin through a sharply populist message, said Friday that Democratic voters "still have a choice" because the race is far from settled.
"First of all, the nomination process is going to go on for a while, well into March," said Edwards, who is fighting the perception that John Kerry has become the overwhelming front-runner for the nomination. Edwards has won only once during the first 14 primary tests.
Stumping for Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Edwards conceded he is facing a front-loaded primary season designed to yield a nominee quickly. It also makes slowing a front-runner difficult.
"I think you fight against the calendar," he said.
"As long as I can get out and get this message out ... every place it's gotten out, it's worked."
Edwards headed to a union hall for a round-table talk with about 15 workers affected by the transfer of manufacturing jobs overseas, including some from an automobile frame manufacturing operation that announced it's moving to Mexico. That will cost this manufacturing city another 500 jobs, and Edwards got an earful about the emotional consequences.
"We basically came into the middle class through the industries," Earl Ingram, who worked for 31 years at the factory, told Edwards. "That's left a rot in our cities because all the factories are gone."
Edwards listened to stories of displaced workers, seeking to persuade them that he understood their pain because of his working-class background. He offered few specific promises.
"I can't promise you I can fix all this. I certainly can't promise you I'll fix this overnight," he said. "What I can tell you is we can change things, we can make it better."
Edwards said that should President Bush win another term in office, the flow of jobs overseas will intensify.
"These trade agreements have been absolutely devastating," he said. "I know what it means to you personally. The jobs that supported middle-class families are disappearing."
After meeting with the displaced workers, Edwards was heading back to Los Angeles for fund-raising events and to appear on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He dismissed suggestions he was giving short shrift to an important state by not making more campaign appearances.
"You see those?" he asked, pointing to a bank of television cameras. "Those people are also connecting me."