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Edwards sees opportunity in Clinton-Obama spat

  • Story Highlights
  • John Edwards tied with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Iowa
  • Clinton, Obama have been attacking each other's judgment and character daily
  • Edwards toning down criticism, believing Iowans will be turned off by attacks
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From Candy Crowley
CNN Washington Bureau
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- With Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama increasingly sniping at each other, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards sees an opening in Iowa.

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John Edwards speaks during a campaign stop at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, last month.

Edwards, Clinton and Obama are in a statistical dead heat in the Hawkeye state, according to the latest polls, and, with a little less than one month left until the Iowa caucuses on January 3, Clinton and Obama are trading almost-daily attacks on each other's character and judgment.

Edwards, wedged between two history-making marquee names with multimillion-dollar war chests, often gets lost in the conversation.

The former senator from North Carolina doesn't seem to mind at all, in part because he sees an opening in the free-fire range between Clinton and Obama.

"I lived through this before. I know how this works," Edwards, who finished second in Iowa in 2004, told CNN. "I am actually having fun. I am having a good time. I feel very confident and very sure-footed."

Edwards is banking that Clinton's and Obama's bitter sound bites will backfire in notoriously friendly Iowa. So, Edwards, the first and the fiercest of the Clinton critics, is dialing back now and emphasizing the vision thing.

"It gets to be a very basic thing: Who are we?" Edwards asked during a campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa. "What is our morality? What is our character? What kind of country do we believe in?"

"Do we believe in an America that is bullying and selfish and trying to impose its will and trying to expand its power around the world?" Edwards continued. "That is not the America that I grew up in. I grew up in an America where we were the light. We were the country where everyone in the world wanted to be like."

The Edwards campaign objects to the suggestions that Iowa is his last stand or that he has more at stake than anyone else.

But the upside of a Edwards victory in Iowa could be huge. A win could put wind into Edwards' campaign going into the New Hampshire primary, just five days after the Iowa Caucuses on January 8.

And even if he places a close second in Iowa behind Clinton, Edwards could solidify himself as the "anti-Hillary" candidate.

A poor showing in Iowa could be just as devastating. This summer Edwards was the front-runner in Iowa, according to polls, and he has a pre-existing campaign structure from his 2004 bid.

While Edwards strategists argue others have been here just as much and have every bit as much at stake, the bottom line is that Edwards doesn't want to be seen after the vote as the candidate who should have won.

When talking to CNN, Edwards said the meaning of a loss in Iowa "depends on the circumstances."

"I think that is hard to predict," he said.

Can Edwards lose well?

"You can lose better, I think is the way to say it," Edwards said, laughing. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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