NASHUA, N.H. – Democrat John Edwards (search) is trying to win over last-minute decision makers here in hopes of pulling off the same surprise finish he captured last week in Iowa.
There are plenty of New Hampshire voters still undecided or wavering on their first choice, and Edwards is trying hard to lure them into his camp before the balloting Tuesday.
"We're still undecided and we're trying to see as many people as we can," said Susan Porter, 47, a teacher from Nashua who attended an Edwards rally Sunday with her daughter.
"I've changed my mind about four times over the last three days," daughter Christine Donlan, 22, said before the rally.
Edwards, who became a wealthy man as a trial lawyer before winning election as a senator from North Carolina, is appealing to them with a stump speech heavy on populist themes and a positive message that emphasizes his own humble beginnings as the son of a mill worker.
He describes the "two Americas" that he sees. One is for the wealthy and privileged who have few worries. The second, he says, is "one for you, people who just work hard and pay your taxes." He leans forward in the smaller venues to make eye contact with individual voters.
"You and I can do something about this," he said. "We can strengthen middle-class America working together."
Edwards' plan is to come on strong in the closing days of the New Hampshire campaign and surprise the pundits and his opponents much as he did in Iowa last week, where he finished a strong second to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search).
Edwards is drawing larger crowds here. He spoke to at least 600 people packed into a middle school gymnasium while nearly as many filed into an overflow room. Edwards suggested he was drawing strength from those crowds — "You can't get in these places anymore," he marveled to reporters — and his staff compared the feeling to the closing days of the Iowa caucuses.
"We're seeing the same kind of momentum and crowd surge that we saw in Iowa," said Jennifer Palmieri, Edwards' spokeswoman. "We think we're doing well here. We have a ticket to Feb. 3."
Seven states vote that day, a week after New Hampshire, and one of the big-ticket states is Edwards' native South Carolina. A poll released Sunday showed him with a slight lead there, with Kerry, Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark bunched close behind.
It's unclear whether Edwards is gaining in New Hampshire. He had been polling consistently in fourth place, but some recent surveys show him as low as single digits and as high as 15 percent.
Edwards and his staff say an unexpectedly strong showing in New Hampshire would give him momentum in the next round of voting.
"I'm closing it every way I know how," Edwards told reporters, describing how he believes he's drawing undecided voters. "For the last three to four weeks, first in Iowa and now in New Hampshire, I've been doing every possible thing I can to close."
And so he gives his populist talk everywhere he goes.
The "two Americas" he talks about encompass two public school systems, two tax systems, two economies, two societies divided by race. He denounces "predatory lenders, credit card companies and paycheck lenders. ... They prey on people who are the most vulnerable."
Sometimes he'll stop in mid-sentence as he expands on a point and ask someone near the front of the crowd if he can borrow a copy of "Real Solutions for America," the 55-page campaign manifesto his aides hand out to explain his positions. It invariably gets a warm reception from the audience, especially when he adds: "I'll give it back, I promise."
And always, at the end of the talk, when there are more hands raised but he has run out of time to answer their questions, he promises if they'll call or write or e-mail him, he'll answer their questions.
"I wish I could take every one of you out of this gym straight to the polls," he said in Nashua.
But how those voters would cast their ballots if he really did take them to the polls is unclear.
Mother and daughter Porter and Donlan weren't ready to vote for Edwards after the rally.
"I like his positive spin on things. He's not doom and gloom like the president we have now," Porter said.
But she was still shopping. "I'm going to see Kerry now," she said. "A lot of my friends are undecided. We're having some big conversations. We'll get together and hash it out at work tomorrow."
Her daughter decided she'd go elsewhere. "I'm not convinced," Donlan said. "I like Edwards. I'd be perfectly happy if he were the nominee... But I think I'm going to go for Dean."