DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. John Edwards spent far more time en route than entreating, as the need to stump in as many battleground states as possible today trumped his ability to say much of anything when he actually got there.
A 16-minute rally in St. Paul, Minn. gave way to a two-minute thank you speech to volunteers at campaign headquarters in Des Moines. A similar volunteer visit was scheduled for later in the afternoon in Cincinnati to be followed by a rally in Pensacola, Fla., before coming to rest in Pompano Beach at a campaign event with singer Jimmy Buffett of "Margaritaville" fame.
Edwards was buoyed by a spirited crowd at St. Paul's Hamline University, where he was joined by former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and invoked the spirit of the late Democratic lions Hubert H. Humphrey and Paul Wellstone.
"This is a place where people know what being a Democrat means," he declared as several hundred supporters in the steamy college gym drowned his words out with their cheers.
Largely hewing to core themes — health care, jobs, change, the failures of the Bush administration — Edwards punctuated his short speech on the choice he believes is at the heart of Tuesday's election: "Do you want four more years of this or do you want a fresh start for America with President John Kerry."
Leaving foggy Minnesota for rainy Iowa, Edwards wedged into a cramped boiler room at Democratic headquarters in downtown Des Moines, made his way through volunteers and reporters, jumped on a folding chair and grabbed a microphone.
Editing the campaign's trademark slogan ("Hope is on the way!") to reflect the final chapter of the acrimonious election, he declared, "Tomorrow, hope will arrive!"
"I would like to say on behalf of John and myself a personal thank you to all of you," he told the volunteers, some seated at telephones where they would spend the rest of the day making get-out-the-vote phone calls. "Everything you've done, all the hard work you've done, it's so important, so important to Iowa, important to this country.
" We need, though, to ask you to work one more day, because, if you'll work for us tomorrow, we're going to work for you for the next four years," he said, his words drowned out by cheers.
Edwards gave a nod to the important role that Iowa plays in modern politics, with its first-in-the nation caucuses that function as incubators for the presidential candidates. He'd visited all of the state's 99 counties as he sought the party's presidential nomination, he said, noting how much he and his running mate had learned here.
"So much of what we want to do for the country we learned from people right here in Iowa," he said. "From hearing about people worrying about their jobs, worrying about their jobs leaving, worried about healthcare costs, worried about what was happening in Iraq. Everything across the waterfront, we learned from the people of Iowa.
"And you have had an enormous effect on us — on John, on myself, and, as a result, you're gonna have an enormous effect on this country," he continued. "Because one thing that I am sure of, and these are my last words to you today, tomorrow Iowa's gonna send John Kerry into the White House."