As Elizabeth Edwards took the stage in a converted mill in Manchester, the unlikely campaign song of "Firecracker," by Ryan Adams, blared through speakers, across a stretch of flag-waving supporters, and into Wolf Blitzer's CNN Situation Room.
"Well, everybody wants to go on forever. But I just want to burn up hard and bright," the North Carolina native sang.
It wasn't the message Edwards wanted to convey—that he's in this for the long haul, from his days as a mill worker in Robbins, N.C., to the day he takes office in the White House. In his concession speech on Tuesday, he told supporters and television viewers that he was "in this race through the convention, and I intend to be the presidential nominee of my party."
But a song about going down in flames of glory might describe Edwards' shift of momentum from squeaking by Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus to landing at the bottom (of the top) of the Democratic heap in New Hampshire.
He certainly fought hard all the way down. During a 36-hour campaign tour, he brought along celebrities like Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and nobodies like James Lowe, who was voiceless for 50 years because he couldn't afford cleft-palate surgery. At each stop, Edwards returned to themes of promising universal health care; challenging the special interests of insurance, drug and energy companies; and resurrecting the middle class.
Speaking to a packed American Legion hall in Dover, Robbins acknowledged that Edwards was trailing behind Clinton and Obama in polls, but insisted they weren't trustworthy.
"We've been told this is a two-person race," he said, to which one audience member replied, "John and who else?"
On the night of the primary, the big story was Clinton's narrow victory over Obama, despite polls that pointed to a landslide victory for him. Many chastised the media for focusing on the incorrect projection. But it may have been the media spectacle of Clinton choking up, slightly, during a Q&A session on the last day of campaigning that propelled voters to side with Clinton. Various exit polls, including a (very) informal study conducted by the Indy, pointed to voters deciding on their candidates in the last few days, even the final minute, before their vote.
One thing the polls did get right was Edwards's distant third-place finish. For many news outlets, his campaign's story was reduced from a paragraph to a sentence. In order to stay relevant, Edwards must build upon union support in Nevada (where he recently lost the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union to Obama) and the support of South Carolina voters who handed him victory in that state's 2004 primary.
Edwards has campaigned vigorously about "corporate greed's iron-fisted grip on democracy," pointing to the power of Washington lobbyists and "$100 million candidates" (a nod to Clinton and Obama's campaigns). Over this next month, Edwards will feel the grip of a significantly smaller budget, while seeking to distance himself from corporate influence. Perhaps more critically, his message may get lost in the shuffle—both Obama and Clinton have incorporated denunciations of insurance, drug and oil companies into their stump speeches, despite records of campaign financing from those same groups.
On Tuesday, Edwards insisted he was still alive, offering logic that sought to diminish the power of two states, while bolstering the populism of his campaign:
"Up until now, about half of 1 percent of Americans have voted. Ninety-nine percent plus have not voted. And those 99 percent deserve to have their voices heard, because we have had too much in America of people's voices not being heard."
However, without strong showings in Nevada and South Carolina—merely 2 more percentage points of the population—Edwards may truly burn up hard and bright.