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John Edwards Campaigns in LA

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Anyone who thinks John Edwards is a loser and should take his marbles and go back to North Carolina apparently was not at the Edwards' rally in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.

Is this why the campaign played "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" during the pre-rally warm-up?

It seems a lot of voters here have the impression, however misguided and dumb, that the guy's a serious candidate for president. Who knew? And that the race for the Democratic nomination isn't over. Who are these starry-eyed dreamers anyway? Haven't they been following the news, with its all-Hillary, all-Barack coverage all the time?

But back to the rally, which took place downtown at the Southern California Public Service Workers' headquarters. In a parking lot. Yes, it couldn't have been less glamorous, but that was the point. As Jason Gomez, a Latino sanitation worker and former Teamsters member in his 30s said of Edwards, "So many of the candidates don't seem like they're representing the people. He's the people's guy. He's the man for me."

"What I like about John Edwards is he has a union background from the womb to the tomb," Clara Brisco, a middle-aged African-American woman and longterm care worker told me. Brisco was waving an "Edwards for President" sign. And she'd driven all the way from her home in Long Beach to hear him speak. "He's all over my house," she laughed of his campaign signs.

More than 1000 supporters stood in the warm noonday sun waiting for Edwards, who arrived from a campaign event in Nevada nearly 40 minutes late. When he did breeze in, smiling his million-dollar smile, stopping to shake hands as he pushed toward the stage, they applauded and cheered. It was truly an Edwards kind of crowd: home health care workers, carpenters and electricians, working families and elderly people. Many came in jeans and T-shirts. About the only people in suits were LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon and LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

For Edwards it was the perfect stage in which to deliver his hard-driving populist message. A parking lot in the shadow of some of the city's biggest corporations.

Like his audience, Edwards dressed down for the occasion in dark blue shirt and jeans. If you watched the Nevada debate, he emphasized much of what he said there. His humble beginnings as the son of a mill worker. The sacrifices of his father so he could attend college. Corporate greed. The subprime mortgage crisis. The 47 million Americans without health insurance. His vow to pull the troops out of Iraq his first year as president. The little girl named Natalie who needed a liver transplant but died because her father's insurance company wouldn't cover it.

And, of course, his credentials as the "change" candidate.

Hmm. I guess we're going to be hearing that word a lot before Super Tuesday.

"There's only one candidate who's never taken a dime from a special interest lobbyist or a PAC," said Edwards to big applause.

And, really, they did seem wild about him. Even Shelli Sloan, who got so fed up with the Democrats eight years ago that she became an Independent. "He has so much more energy than Obama or Clinton," gushed the 46-year-old café owner.

So. Why, I kept thinking the whole time I was listening to Edwards, is he not winning more labor endorsements? If he's fighting for the middle-class, why aren't they fighting for him? This seems the fundamental paradox of his candidacy. He didn't get the Culinary Workers in Nevada. Then this week in Los Angeles he lost another prized endorsement: the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a group that represents more than 800,000 workers. They also went for Obama, even though Edwards pitched in during their hotel strike a few years ago.

What gives? Is it that key labor organizations have given up on him? That they want a sure thing? That they prefer Obama's message of unity to Edwards' message of taking no prisoners? That they just really want to elect the nation's first black president?

As for Hillary, even as Edwards was speaking, she was just across the freeway. Trying to rack up another major endorsement: the Los Angeles Times.

But Edwards isn't giving up. "I am an underdog campaign, but this is where you come in," he said in closing, his voice rising. "You can help us here in California, help a grassroots movement that spreads across this state, that spreads across this country. When that tidal wave of change is finished, we will be able to look our children in eye and say, 'We did for our you what our parents did for us.'"

And with that it was over, and Edwards began signing autographs and people crowded the stage, snapping photos of him on their cell phones.

"You're going to win, John!" a man shouted out.