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John Edwards's quest to sway a bigger jury

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John Edwards moves his gaze smoothly from person to person, around the audience of 200-plus at Cedar Rapids' Legion Arts gallery, first laying out proposals on jobs, then healthcare, then education.

There are the nurses in purple T-shirts, the pharmacist who asks about drug imports from Canada, the divorced dad who pleads for fathers' rights. A fluffy striped cat wanders among the chairs. A little boy squirms in his seat; the candidate, who has little ones of his own, flashes a fatherly smile.

As Mr. Edwards speaks, some in the audience begin to nod, slowly but perceptibly, like the jurors he used to woo in his days as a trial lawyer. They're with him, and they're with the case he's making - that he shares their values, not those of the president, who "goes down to his ranch in Texas and walks around in his big belt buckle," says the first-term US senator from North Carolina, his voice dripping with disdain.

In his 20 years as a practicing attorney, Edwards won his share of high-profile personal-injury cases - babies injured at birth, a girl severely injured by a swimming pool drain, a teenager who committed suicide right after release from a psychiatric hospital. Some judgments topped $20 million. Closing arguments by Johnny Edwards (his given name) have become legend; other lawyers would come to court just to watch.

For John Edwards the presidential candidate, the jury is still out. He can draw a crowd in Iowa, and sits atop polls in South Carolina, home of the first Southern primary (Feb. 3), but he has yet to break out of the pack of nine Democrats seeking their party's nomination.

Winning the hearts of Iowans, hosts of the first presidential nominating contest (Jan. 19), seems a task made to order for a politician who knows how to work a crowd. First, there's the look: Edwards doesn't dress like a rich senator. On a recent swing through Iowa, his uniform was khaki pants, a blue button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up, no tie, no jacket, no Rolex. Then there are the hands; Unlike Al Gore, he knows what to do with them, almost shaping his arguments in the air. Whether in a union hall or a living room, he projects relaxed confidence.


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