The man the Democratic Party nominated for vice president in 2004 is running for president now.  John Edwards of North Carolina -- the son of a mill worker, a successful trial lawyer and former U.S. senator -- faces tough odds in his quest for the top job. VOA's Jim Fry profiles the charismatic, youthful looking candidate.

In July, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards traveled to some of America's poorest places.  Here in Cleveland, in the midwestern state of Ohio, he walked through a neighborhood and pointed out that 37 million Americans live in poverty.

And at a rally in neighboring Kentucky, he said to a crowd, "With our wealth and our prosperity, it is absolutely wrong.  Morally wrong."

Edwards -- with his focus on poverty, universal health care and the influence of wealthy special interests -- attempts to appeal to Democratic Party progressives.

Larry Sabato is director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He says liberals tend to control the Democratic Party's nominating process. "Edwards is running flat out for the nomination and he'll worry about the general election later.  He is running well to the left of where he ran in 2004, because he has to.  His key constituency is labor."

Edwards has been courting union workers for at least a year -- bringing his message to union halls and picket lines. In April, he became the first Democratic candidate to spend one day with a union member -- here working alongside nurse's aide Elaine Ellis.

Union President Andy Stern had asked each candidate to walk a day in the shoes of a member of the Service Employees International Union. "So he really has banked a lot [on this issue] and done a lot for people who are in crisis in America and we admire him for it," said Stern.

Edwards tells Democratic audiences of his humble childhood in a small South Carolina town as the son of a mill worker. He became a rich trial lawyer by winning judgments against big corporations. That success lead to a North Carolina U.S. Senate seat in 1998.

Edwards ended up as John Kerry's choice for vice president on the 2004 losing Democratic ticket.  And so he began a new campaign seemingly from a position of strength.

Presidential research fellow John Fortier says, "But he has not shown that [strength] in the national polls.  He has not raised as much money as Obama and Clinton.  He's far behind.  He polls on the low side."

Edwards -- running third in opinion polls among Democrats -- has consistently trailed far behind former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton and the youthful Senator Barak Obama.

"I am the underdog.  I am fighting.  I like that place, it's always worked very well for me.  It is sort of the story of my life," says Edwards.

He relies on his wife of 30 years, Elizabeth. She is considered a shrewd political tactician and has taken a very public role in his campaign, despite the recurrence this year of her cancer.

Edwards has spent a lot of time in Iowa, the state that holds the nation's first caucus [political contest for delegates] where he did well in 2004. 

Edwards led in early public opinion polls, but is now in a tight three-way race in a state Larry Sabato says he must win. "Even a close second doesn't count.  And if he doesn't win Iowa, he's out."

In recent months, those who follow the campaign say union workers and Democratic stalwarts have heard a more strident, even angry, message from Edwards.

"You want to know why you don't have universal health care?  Because of drug companies, insurance companies, and their lobbyists."

 "He is finding his voice about what he believes in,? thinks Andy Stern. ?Maybe it's too angry at times as some would say, but I think it's truthful. You know -- and I think, no one is going to doubt that we're seeing the real John Edwards at the moment."

Whether his focus on working people and the downtrodden will be enough, Democrats in early caucuses and primaries will decide around the first of the year.