DENISON, Iowa - John Edwards predicts his financial disadvantage against Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama would be quickly overcome if he were to pull off a victory in the Iowa presidential caucuses Thursday.
"It's just reality that if you win the Iowa caucuses, the money pours in," Edwards said in an Associated Press interview Sunday. "It's almost like you cannot process it because it comes in so fast. There will be plenty of money to run the campaign."
After months of being seemingly stuck in third place in most polls, Edwards has climbed into a virtual tie in recent surveys and has drawn large, enthusiastic crowds on a well-trod route through the state since his second-place finish here in 2004.
The former North Carolina senator, restrained from using his personal fortune by his decision to accept public campaign financing, has raised far less money and runs a smaller organization in Iowa than his chief rivals for the Democratic nomination.
No matter, he says. The presidential nomination contests are so compressed this time — "bam, bam, bam" — that strong early showings should be rewarded nationally, and a nominee produced in short order.
"The message will get heard," he said. "If you win the Iowa caucuses, you are going to be heard very loudly and clearly in these other places."
Mark Longabaugh, who did campaign work for Richard Gephardt in New Hampshire in 1988 and Bill Bradley in 2000, said the squeezed calendar means "the dynamic is dramatically different than in the past," with less time for candidates to recover from an early setback. He noted the usual gap of at least eight days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary is down to five days this time.
In 2000, Bradley was soundly beaten in Iowa but was able to boost his poll standings in New Hampshire by up to 10 points, making that race close, said Longabaugh.
"I can't imagine many people will be able to pull that off this year," he said.
Edwards claims he's put a "terrific" organization on the ground in New Hampshire. "We have people up there every week making thousands and thousands of phone calls."
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, agreed.
"He's invested more resources in New Hampshire, he has more people on the ground," said Scala. "If he wins Iowa, he could gain some momentum here. He's put some roots here."
Edwards' prediction that an Iowa win would spur donations is echoed by his adviser Joe Trippi, who has estimated $1 million a day could come in as a result. Edwards had raised $30 million by the end of September, well behind Obama and Clinton, when he decided to seek public financing. He has been certified to get nearly $9 million in public funds.
His campaign also argues that with the Internet, money can flow faster than ever, as can organization, an opportunity other candidates are intent on exploiting as well. Trippi built just such a high-tech financial operation for Howard Dean in 2004.
Even so, Edwards argues that the aura of a winner will be worth more than cash after Iowa.
"I don't think it's money-driven at that point," he said. "If you've been successful in Iowa, you've been successful. Free media ... will overwhelm anything anybody spends."
And he dismissed the significance of the money edge developed by Clinton and Obama.
"We're having an election, not an auction," he said. "This is going to be decided by who is the best candidate with the clearest, strongest message."
Still, Edwards has been getting more than $2 million in help from labor-backed independent groups that have drawn criticism from watchdog groups and from Obama in particular. The groups, called "527" organizations for the section of the IRS code that authorizes them, have been running ads supporting Edwards' policies in Iowa during the closing days of the campaign.
Edwards said he might get an extra boost if he can win Iowa because it would show he clawed his way back into a race viewed for months as a two-person contest.
"I think if I win here it will be a shock to America," he said. "They have been telling everyone repeatedly that it's going to be Clinton or Obama. That adds to the energy and excitement."