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John Edwards and the great divide

December 3, 2007 |  9:44 am

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa -- While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were tussling elsewhere over Obama's PAC and whether a childhood essay signaled early -- and lied about -- ambitions (blame the polls), John Edwards was busy driving around north-central Iowa trying to win over the uncommitteds and make sure his supporters get out to the caucus sites on Jan. 3.

He declined to weigh in on the PAC "fracas," as he called it, but made light of the essay spat. ''It's fine to talk about our records and about issues,'' he said. ''But we probably ought to stop at age 14.''

But later in the same talk, Edwards offered a revealing choice of words that signaled he might perceive of himself as something a little different from the voters he's wooing with his populist themes of returning government to the people. It was somewhat jarring, too, coming from a candidate who is remarkably consistent on the stump.

Speaking to about 70 in the library of a Clear Lake high school on a night when the temperature outside hovered in the teens, Edwards talked about his family's encounter with health care insurance from his wife's battle with breast cancer. "I have first-class, real-life experience with this, with what people go through," Edwards said. He talked about going with Elizabeth for doctors' visits and chemotherapy treatments, then getting the insurance company statements in the mail.

"We had good insurance. And we get the statements from the insurance company -- I had no idea what those statements mean. And we're both lawyers. I ran for president and vice president of the United States. And one month they'd cover something and the next month, the same thing, they wouldn't cover. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. And I just felt to myself, I can't imagine what these insurance companies are doing to regular people out there."

The "regular people" nodded as Edwards cited that as a reason the nation needs universal health care. But even wearing jeans and talking about the nation's growing class divide, the choice of words signaled that Edwards' self-perception has moved a long way from the blue-collar kid from the Carolina mill towns.

-- Scott Martelle

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