John Edwards (search), once an afterthought in Iowa who barely registered in polls, surged to a surprise second place Monday based on his "uplifting vision to change America."

"Tonight, we started a movement that changed this country, that will sweep across America," Edwards told a jubilant crowd of supporters.

Edwards said his message of hope and optimism caught on with voters from one corner of the state to the other, in "homes, cafes and main streets."

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"I came here a year ago with the belief that we could change this country, that the politics of hope would beat the politics of cynicism," Edwards said. "The people of Iowa tonight confirmed that they believe in an uplifting vision to change America."

Two weeks ago, Howard Dean (search) and Dick Gephardt (search) were the favorites, based on polls and the strength of their campaign organizations in the state. But Edwards and John Kerry vaulted over them both Monday night to finish second and first respectively in the caucuses.

Edwards' campaign was boosted by an endorsement by the state's largest newspaper. He also credited the relentlessly upbeat tone of his campaign in helping him ride a wave of rising support during the weekend as he charmed larger and larger crowds around the state.

Women caucus participants helped Edwards, with three in 10 supporting him. He won most of his support among adults ages 45 to 64, and was about even with Kerry among that group.

Nancy Abels, a retired teacher from Des Moines, said she was impressed with what she thought was an honorable campaign.

"I don't have much faith in politicians, but he's just got a certain something," Abels said. "His sincerity is beyond reproach."

First-time caucus-goers were a boon to Edwards and Kerry, according to an entrance poll of caucus-goers conducted for the National Election Pool -- made up of The Associated Press and the TV networks -- by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Edwards and Kerry also did well among procrastinators who made their decisions just within the last week.

Edwards was stronger among those who said they were somewhat liberal, moderate and conservative than he was among liberals. Edwards and Kerry also fared well among those who thought education and the economy were the most important issues.

"It feels terrific. What's happened here the last two weeks with my campaign has been phenomenal," Edwards said as he awaited results at a downtown hotel. "We're very excited about what's happening tonight."

Edwards was elected to the Senate from North Carolina in 1998, after building a career as a successful trial attorney. He has said his Southern roots would be important in mounting a successful challenge to President Bush.