HANOVER, N.H. – Presidential hopeful John Edwards said Thursday the Washington establishment is corrupt and suggested — without mentioning her by name — that rival Hillary Rodham Clinton has been part of that corroded system.
Edwards' new stump speech, centered on a a need for change and aimed at his top two rivals, comes just before Labor Day, the traditional start of the primary nominating season in this state where he has seen his polling lead slip in recent months.
"Real change starts with being honest, and I want to say something again: The system in Washington is rigged, and I'll say it again, it's rigged and it's rigged by greedy powers," Edwards said Thursday.
"It's rigged by the system to favor the establishment," he said at Dartmouth College.
What Edwards called "the rhetoric of change" is popular among all the Democratic candidates. Sen. Barack Obama uses the notion throughout his campaign. One of Clinton's slogans is, "Ready for change, ready to lead."
Edwards challenged his Democratic rivals' ownership of the word at the start a four-day swing through New Hampshire.
"The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale. The Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent," Edwards said to applause, referencing a Clinton-era controversy in which high-dollar donors were allowed to stay in the White House's famed bedroom.
He said the past isn't going to solve today's problems or "a corrupt a corroded system."
"Those wed to the policies of the '70s, '80s or the '90s are wedded to the past, ideas and policies that are tired, shopworn and obsolete. We will find no answers there," he said.
Clinton served as first lady during most of the 1990s.
Edwards later said he didn't mean to target Clinton during his new stump speech.
"Going back doesn't move us forward and we need to move forward," he told reporters beside his campaign bus.
Edwards said voters have a choice: "Either move forward boldly into the future for our children ... or the alternative, which is to stay in the same stale direction, which we've been traveling in the recent past."
Edwards' speech, his toughest yet against his top rivals, sought to draw clearer lines between himself and better-polling Democrats.
"Small thinking and outdated answers aren't the only problems with a vision for the future that is rooted in nostalgia," Edwards said. "The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked — am I right? — and you forget what you didn't. It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt — and it still is corrupt."
Edwards said voters can't simply "replace one group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other."
Edwards was gentler on Obama, although he also was on the former North Carolina senator's mind.
"How many times have voters in New Hampshire heard politicians come rolling through here saying that they want change?" Edwards said. "That's great. What do they really want to do as the president of the United States?"
Obama foes have said that despite his pledge for change, he lacks sufficient experience to win his party's nomination or the presidency. It was a question the first-term senator from Illinois sought to quiet during a trip earlier this week to New Hampshire.
Edwards is traveling with his wife and his three children for a four-day tour. He and Elizabeth Edwards left the bus to the strains of Sheryl Crow's "A Change Will Do You Good."
A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said she recognized Edwards' message.
"Voters have long recognized John Edwards as the change candidate in this race, after he flip-flopped from being a staunch war-on-terror supporter to a liberal protester," said Amber Wilkerson.