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Breaking news: Edwards' Iowa Express bus breaks down

January 2, 2008 |  1:08 am

Oops!

To cap off his four-year campaign to win Iowa's Democratic caucus Thursday night, John Edwards planned a 36-hour marathon bus tour through 15 of the crucial state's 99 counties with a whole series of policy announcements to garner publicity and caucus votes.

But 12 hours into the political odyssey -- billed as Edwards' "Marathon for the Middle Class" -- his Main Street Express bus began making very disturbing noises in western Iowa. In darkness, the bus with the entire Edwards entourage pulled over at a service station and was abandoned.

Oh, the awful symbolism for a political campaign struggling to overcome a new Des Moines Register poll showing him behind Hillary Clinton and way behind -- like eight points -- this senatorial upstart Barack Obama in what everyone admits is a make-or-break contest for Edwards' presidential hopes in the Hawkeye state, where he finished second to John Kerry in 2004.

Edwards is already famous for his tardiness. But 45 minutes after he was to speak in his Council Bluffs office late Tuesday night, the former senator and his wife Elizabeth were still missing. And the crowd of more than 200 people, including The Times' dogged Seema Mehta, crammed the office full and stuffy and spilled outdoors, where the January prairie temperature was in the single digits.

A few minutes late in Iowa's rural society is perfectly acceptable. This is, after all, the agricultural Heartland where the weather is the first item on the radio news, not the last. But 45+ minutes late on a holiday night before a normal workday in 5-degree temperatures seems like a lot longer. "When he's president he can call the shots," hollered one person, who at least arrived an Edwards supporter, "Get him in here!"

"We've got to work in the morning!" griped another.

Unbeknownst to the crowd, Edwards, his wife and staff were scrambling off their broken bus into two minivans and racing to the event. Eventually, they arrived. He spoke. His staff hastily rented another plain bus and the even tardier campaign headed off to a supporter's house in Atlantic.

Edwards' worried staff assured reporters that the main Main Street Express bus really hadn't broken down. They said the troubled vehicle was left behind in Council Bluffs out of "an abundance of caution."

Looks like the 36-hour bus tour might get to at least 40.

For an UPDATE, click here.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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