TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – His remarks at the nighttime rally finished, John Edwards (search) peeled off his navy sport coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves and hustled off stage, seemingly eager to meet the sea of 10,000 supporters before him.
As U2's "Beautiful Day" blared over the speakers, the Democrat made a beeline for the metal barriers, or "rope line," that separated him from fans packed 50 deep and trying to get close to the man who could be the next vice president.
The scene plays out after every Edwards campaign event, and he appears to enjoy it.
Like other politicians, the North Carolina senator spends anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes working the crowd after each appearance. But his energy and ever-present grin suggest he'd do it for hours if not for the cajoling of aides trying to keep him on schedule.
At a rally at Florida A&M University on Sunday, Edwards snaked his way along the barriers, lunging for every outstretched hand and inching back to grab those he may have missed as Secret Service agents shuffled him forward.
When he couldn't reach, Edwards hopped onto the barrier's bottom rung and leaned over and into the crowd before pumping a fist in the air, thumb up. Even those at the back, with no chance of getting up close, reached toward him.
Along the line, toddlers got their hair tousled and cheeks patted. Babies were hoisted high and given pecks. Men got a thumbs-up and slaps on the back. And swooning women wanted hugs, to which Edwards often complied.
Sometimes, he threw an arm around someone to pose for a picture from one of the dozens of cameras shoved before him. Usually, he clasped supporters hands as if to arm wrestle. And, in a few cases, he was hit in the head by flailing Kerry-Edwards signs. Through it all, he laughed and grinned and appeared to soak in the enthusiasm from the mob before him.
"I'm from South Carolina and I talk like you," one woman said. "Great!" Edwards said, giving her a hug. "We're voting for you," a man next to her chimed in. "Thank you. We need more like you!" the candidate responded.
At a town-hall event in Haverford, Pa., the next day, a group of women called "Senator, over here! Over here!" The flash of his smile and a wave elicited squeals. Moments later, members of a coed fraternity at Haverford College tossed him a T-shirt with their Greek letters on it.
Later at a union hall in Philadelphia, die-hard Democrats waved tiny flags and shoved behind cream-colored velvet ropes.
"Don't forget her hand!" yelled a young woman about the friend next to her. Edwards complied. Supporters said things like, "I'm so glad you're here!" "Good to see you," "Lots of luck" — matched by plenty words like "Thank you!" and "All right!" from the candidate.
Near the end of the line, a man with a thick accent handed over a business card and said: "We've got to do something about Haiti." Edwards shoved the card in his pocket and thanked him for coming.
Moments later, a reporter for a local TV affiliate shoved a microphone toward Edwards and got a quick sound bite about the importance of voting.
Then Edwards was off — to the next event and rope line.