Overflow crowds turned out Sunday to hear the North Carolina senator's message as he sought to complete a circuit of the state in the final 48 hours before voters begin casting ballots on Tuesday.
"My campaign is not based on the politics of cynicism," said Edwards, whose strong second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses last week has generated some excitement about his campaign. "It's based on the politics of hope."
Close to 600 Edwards supporters showed up to a bowling alley that was reserved for just 50 people. When the manager started asking some of them to leave, they got a little rowdy.
The manager eventually called police to control the crowd. Edwards showed up, calmed the crowd and made his speech.
Later, Edwards told reporters he believed his message was getting through, based on the size of the crowds that have been turning out.
"I'm closing it every way I know how," Edwards said, 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."
He appears to have closed in South Carolina, which will hold its primary Feb. 3, a week after New Hampshire's Tuesday primary.
Edwards and John Kerry were the top two in South Carolina, with several rivals within striking distance, a poll released Sunday showed.
Edwards, a native of South Carolina, was at 21 percent. Kerry was at 17 percent.
Al Sharpton was at 15 percent with Wesley Clark at 14 percent in the American Research Group poll.
Howard Dean was at 9 percent, Joe Lieberman at 5 percent, Dennis Kucinich at 1 percent, with 18 percent undecided.
The results in New Hampshire are likely to shake up the race in the states that follow, much as the Iowa caucuses reshaped the New Hampshire race this week.
Dean led in New Hampshire before Iowa, where Kerry's victory and Edwards' strong second-place finish gave them a burst of energy heading into New Hampshire.
Other states holding contests on Feb. 3 are Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
The ARG South Carolina poll of 600 likely voters was taken Jan. 23-24. It has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.
Many of the people listening to Edwards Sunday in New Hampshire still were looking for the candidate they believe would be the best nominee in this fall's campaign against President Bush. Some said they were uncertain whether Edwards was that man.
"I like his positive spin on things; he's not doom and gloom like the president we have now," said Susan Porter, 47, a school teacher from Nashua.
But Porter said she remained undecided and still was shopping around after hearing Edwards' presentation and the boisterous response he received.
"I'm going to see (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry now," she said.
Polls in New Hampshire generally have shown Edwards in fourth place, although some have him tied for third with retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Other polls have shown Edwards and Clark tied for second with Dean. Kerry continues to poll at the front of the pack.
Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the New Hampshire campaign could play out as it did last week in Iowa, where Edwards surged at the end to surpass all of his opponents, except first-place finisher Kerry.
"We're seeing the same kind of momentum and crowd surge that we saw in Iowa," she said, acknowledging that none of that was showing up in the polls. "We're doing well here. We have a ticket to Feb. 3."
As Edwards focused on New Hampshire, his staff looked toward states with upcoming presidential contests. Edwards hired the North Dakota state director who previously worked for Missouri Rep. DickGephardt, whom Edwards helped force from the campaign with his strong finish in Iowa.
Over the weekend, Edwards announced the hiring of two Gephardt staffers to head his operation in Missouri, which is the biggest Feb. 3 prize with 74 delegates to the Democratic convention.
The campaign is banking on doing well enough in New Hampshire on Tuesday to maintain the momentum going into South Carolina, the state he is looking to win. The campaign also is airing a TV ad in Oklahoma, another of Edwards' targets for next week.
Edwards said he would continue delivering his populist message, arguing that he can end the "two Americas" that exist today, one for the wealthy and privileged and the other for working people and the poor.
"When it's working, you don't change," he said after a town meeting in Nashua. "You keeping doing what you're doing."
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