PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, who has spent five years as a senator, assumed the mantle of Washington outsider Monday as he pressed toward the finish of the New Hampshire primary campaign.
In a discussion with reporters about how voters should decide between him and rival John Kerry in Tuesday's primary, Edwards suggested they choose someone who has not spent decades in the capital.
"If we want real change in America, it's my belief that we need someone who's not a Washington insider," Edwards said outside a downtown church where he had just spoken to an overflow crowd.
"It's one thing to talk about special interests," he said. "It's something else to do something about it."
Kerry was the front-runner heading into the final day of campaigning before the nation's first primary state votes, and Edwards was trailing somewhere behind.
Polls have shown Edwards with support variously in the single digits to as much as 15 percent and nearly in a tie for second place.
Edwards and his staff clearly have been seeking to build momentum in the final days of the race, hoping to score the kind of surprise finish he had in Iowa last week, where he ended up strongly in second place.
They believe that would give them an advantage heading into the seven contests held a week later, especially in Edwards' native South Carolina.
Edwards refused to predict where he would finish Tuesday. But he was taking heart in the crowds that have been turning out to hear him all across the state, perhaps another benefit of his Iowa bounce.
At least 800 people, most of them students, packed in the gymnasium at Milford High School for a morning rally. An administrator said probably fewer than 20 percent of the students were old enough to vote, but Edwards still urged them to "Join me in this campaign, join me in this cause.
"Together, starting tomorrow, we're going to change America."
In Portsmouth, he gave his populist speech again, making a passing reference to his opponents.
"Do you believe we need real change in America, real change in Washington?" he said. "Do you believe somebody who's been in politics most of their life or in Washington for decades will bring that change?"
Getting through to young people may not help Edwards in Tuesday's primary. Some experts say that, like the students he impressed in Milford, Edwards is more suited to lead in the future than in the present.
"That's one of the few weakness that he has, that he's maybe a little thin" said political expert Dante Scala of Saint Anselm College. "Maybe he's an attractive package, but he would have been better in 2008 than 2004."
Young people are not the only ones who like him, however. Helen Reid, 71, a retired educator from Portsmouth, said she went into Monday's rally undecided and emerged "95 percent" certain she would vote for Edwards.
"He is a populist," she said. "He speaks to issues that mean a great deal to us.
"The social issues that I'm most interested in, he addressed: education, the environment, jobs."