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John Edwards hits the road (again)

January 6, 2008 |  5:57 pm

Manchester, N.H. -- In his bid to transform the Democratic presidential race into a mano a mano contest between himself and Barack Obama, John Edwards is relying on a tactic that may have helped propel his second-place finish in Iowa: a road trip.

Earlier today, Edwards and his crew embarked on a 36-hour tour of New Hampshire, just as he had done in Iowa (though presumably with more reliable wheels).

If you happen to be in the area, the candidate's itinerary includes Monday stops at 2 a.m. (EST) on Main Street in Berlin, N.H., and 4 a.m. at Miller's Cafe in Littleton, N.H.

Pivotal moments during Saturday night's Democratic candidate debate underscored that Edwards' strategy, for now, is to join Obama in ganging up on Hillary Clinton in hopes that she's the first of the trio officially driven from the nomination race. And then, he'll hope that Obama's message of hope somehow grows stale and the party will turn to him.

At the kickoff event today for his new tour, Edwards, as he frequently does, relied on a real-life story to illustrate his attacks on corporate interests -- in this case the health insurance industry. Joining him at a packed rally in Manchester, The Times' Seema Mehta reports, was a family from Los Angeles.

Leukemia patient Nataline Sarkisyan, 17, needed a liver transplant and was turned down ...

by her family's insurance carrier late last year. Doctors, nurses and others in the area's Armenian community protested, and Cigna eventually reversed its decision. But the teen died hours after the reversal.

Since Nataline's death Dec. 20, Edwards often has invoked her case on the stump, and he named her in the speech he delivered after edging Clinton to come in second in the Iowa caucuses last week.

Hilda Sarkisyan, Nataline's mother, heard the speech and contacted his campaign. The family arrived in New Hampshire on Sunday morning.

Nataline's parents and brother described their ordeal, from Nataline's diagnosis at age 14, to a bone-marrow transplant her brother gave her, to the day she died.

"Thirty minutes before my sister passed away in that ICU room, I looked at her in her eyes, and honest to God, I promised her I'm going to live my life for her; I promised her that everyone in the world is going to know her story, her struggle, her fight," said Bedig Sarkisyan. "The world has to change."

Grigor Sarkisyan, Nataline's father, told the somber audience how he had promised to buy his daughter a white car after she got out of the hospital, but had to buy a white coffin instead. He said he thought he had done everything he was supposed to as a father -- working hard, supporting his family and buying health insurance that he believed would take care of them if they got sick. Instead, he was protesting outside of Cigna's headquarters the day his daughter died.

He and his wife urged voters to support Edwards, saying he is the sole candidate who will fight for Americans against such powerful interests as insurance companies.

Edwards used the story to take a gentle jab at Obama, saying the family's experience shows why the next president needs to be a fighter, not a negotiator.

The Sarkisyans "dealt with the insurance company, negotiated with them, filled out their forms. Nothing changed until they took them on and fought them. That's what brought about the result that was too late," he told Mehta and other reporters after the town hall meeting.

-- Don Frederick

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