by Rick Pearson
DES MOINES — Democratic candidate John Edwards kicked off an eight-day Iowa bus tour today by telling caucus-goers that by living in the nation's leadoff presidential state, they have a great deal of responsibility in choosing a contender.
Unlike Iowans, Edwards said, "most of America will see the presidential candidates in 30-60 second sound bites on television." Iowans, he said, "are the guardians of what kind of human being we'll have as the next president of the United States."
"What I ask caucus-goers here in Iowa to do on behalf of our country is to make sure you caucus for somebody who can restore that trust relationship, somebody whom you believe is honest, who is sincere, who is trustworthy, 'cause you're going to be in a place to evaluate that that most of America is not," Edwards said.
"And so, not on my behalf, but on behalf of our country, I ask you to judge us, everyone of us, up or down, because we must have a president of the United States that can restore trust between the American people and the president," he said.
Edwards challenged the crowd of a couple of hundred people at the Polk County Convention Center in downtown Des Moines to consider whether they are looking "for careful, cautious political calculation, or are we going to be looking for bold, strong specific leadership."
Edwards remarks came as he stood in front of his campaign bus, dubbed the "Main Street Express," with the motto "America Belongs to Us" emblazed on the side.
Edwards later told reporters that the Democratic contest for the Jan. 3 caucuses "feels like a dead heat to me" among himself and Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
"I think among the three of us, it's very close," the former North Carolina senator said. "I think it's impossible for anybody to predict with certainty what's going to happen between now and the caucus."
Four years ago, Edwards finished second in Iowa behind eventual nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) after both were down in the pack for much of the early 2004 campaign.
"What happened last time, the last three weeks, there was a dramatic rise by me and, I think, Sen. Kerry, and you've gotta believe there's going to be some movement in these last three weeks," Edwards said.