MANCHESTER, N.H. – North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search) launched a six-day New Hampshire presidential blitz Wednesday, hoping to jump-start his lagging campaign before it's too late to catch up to top contenders for the 2004 Democratic nomination.
Taking a page from the winning New Hampshire strategy that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (search) used in the nation's first primary in 2000, Edwards is heading out on a 39-stop, 24-town bus trip.
The tour will be followed by 100 town hall meetings before the primary, which is exactly how McCain progressed in 2000. He has even named his bus, the "Real Solutions Express," similar to McCain's "Straight Talk Express" of 2000.
Edwards began Wednesday's campaigning in Nashua, at the site John F. Kennedy chose to start his successful presidential bid more than 40 years ago.
But in an indication of the difficulty Edwards is having in gaining traction with the public, more reporters turned out at his first stop than voters.
The 50-year-old first-term U.S. senator began his campaign months ago with an aggressive fund-raising campaign and expectations that he could emerge as a fresh-faced Democratic southerner with a campaign style to rival former President Bill Clinton's.
But, Edwards is trailing badly in the polls, has refused to rule out running for re-election to the Senate next year and often does not ask voters for support or even tell them he wants to be president.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) leads the latest New Hampshire poll and his battle with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has kept Edwards out of the headlines and out of striking distance.
In Iowa, the first caucus state, Dean is leading and battling it out with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search). Edwards is far back in the Iowa polls and the state's influential Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack has often repeated a claim made to Fox News four months ago that Iowa is a three-way race between Gephardt, Dean and Kerry, leaving Edwards without a place in the top tier.
Despite trailing in nearly every poll, Edwards insists he has the rest of the presidential candidates right where he wants them.
He argues that trailing in the polls at this point is actually part of his strategy to wait until the real voting gets closer. Aides say rivals like Dean risk peaking too soon, and with the first caucus still more than four months away, Edwards has a way to go before crunch time.
"I think crunch time is when it always is — a month before the primary, because hopefully people are starting to pay attention now," Edwards said.
While Edwards claims he has deliberately waited to kick his campaign into high gear, he has already started airing TV commercials, only the second candidate to do so.
Dean launched ads first and surged in the polls almost immediately. Edwards, however, has been on the air for three weeks and so far has had no measurable movement in the polls.
An important, if not symbolic, turning point looms in the campaign. Labor Day, only two-and-a-half weeks away, begins a fierce sprint of debates toward a highly-accelerated voting season that will end in the first three-and-a-half months of next year.
For now, Edwards says his plan is to hang back until the last minute is unfolding, exactly as he planned.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.