U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards tried to increase support in the key early voting state of New Hampshire on Wednesday with promises of fighting the establishment, changing Washington _ and even speaking with a Southern accent.
The former U.S. senator, in a tight race with rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, stuck to populist themes.
"You'd better choose someone as your candidate who's ready for this battle. Nice words will not change anything," Edwards said.
New Hampshire and Iowa are the crucial first contests in political parties' state-by-state process of selecting presidential nominees. Candidates who do well in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, and in the New Hampshire primary five days later, can gain momentum and media attention, establishing themselves as front-runners. Those who do poorly often decide to drop out of the race.
Edwards has spent years building an organization in Iowa. In New Hampshire, polls show Clinton and Obama in a tight race. Edwards remains a distant third but hopes a strong showing in Iowa will let him go into New Hampshire with momentum.
"It's a very competitive race. From everything I see, it's a dead heat between the three of us," Edwards told reporters after going door-to-door looking for votes.
He refrained from criticizing his rivals, aware that Iowa voters tend to reject overtly negative campaigning.
"My fight is not with politicians. My fight is on behalf of those kind of people I grew up with who deserve a real chance in this country," Edwards said.
He cited his small-town, Southern roots as an asset in the race.
"The last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter," he said in his Southern twang, "both talk like me."
He said Wednesday was his last day in New Hampshire before the voting begins.
"We'll go from here to Iowa very late tonight. ... I, Elizabeth, my kids, my parents _ everybody will be stationed in Iowa between now and Jan. 3."
"Having done this once before, this is crunch time, now's when it matters," Edwards said.