As it happens, there isn't much in his Iowa speeches that the locals argue with - including his protectionist stance on jobs (standard North Carolina fare, but at odds with many Democrats nationally), support of agricultural subsidies, and concerns about civil liberties. "The Washington people," he tells voters, had cautioned him on raising that last point. But two years into the war on terror, this exhortation - "We cannot let people like John Ashcroft take away our rights, our freedom, our liberty, our privacy" - is his biggest applause line.
In many ways, John Edwards's 50 years of life have seemed charmed. Blessed with a Pepsodent smile and the drive to succeed, he has the kind of up-by-the-bootstraps life story that the likes of George W. Bush and Howard Dean can't match.
It may have been the death of his oldest child in 1996 - son Wade, then 16, who was killed when his Jeep flipped over - that catalyzed Edwards's leap from a lucrative law practice into politics, but the senator won't discuss it. Some observers applaud Edwards for not exploiting tragedy. Others suggest public discussion might add more texture to his life story.
But even if the darkest moment of his own life is off the table, he seems to have infinite patience for other people's stories. At every event on his three-day Iowa tour, at least one person poured out a tale of woe - the young divorced man who rarely sees his 2-year-old daughter; the older woman who, along with her husband, spends $15,000 a year on prescription drugs; the guy with the dire medical condition whose union pension isn't being funded. With each, Edwards listened with the patience of a social worker, even amid murmurs of "ask your question!" from the audience. Without fail, a campaign aide took down names and numbers.
So in the end, with all his advantages, why hasn't Edwards done better? For one thing, he's a senator, with no executive experience; America hasn't sent a sitting senator to the White House in 43 years. To many voters, senator equals insider, even if you've been in Washington just five years.