WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards’ time in Iowa paid off. Sort of.

Edwards placed second in the results of the Jan. 3 presidential caucuses — barely. The final tally was Barack Obama 38%, Edwards 30%, Hillary Clinton 29%, Bill Richardson 2%, Joe Biden 1% and Chris Dodd 1%.

This is the latest story in a Register series on the candidates in the 2008 race for the U.S. presidency.

Edwards campaigned steadily in the state, using religious language to bolster his platform, citing firm religious convictions and his intention to change America.

He repeatedly says that poverty and failure to provide universal health care are among the greatest moral issues facing America. He is promoting a health care plan that would use taxpayer money to provide free abortions.

“The fact that we have 37 million people who live every day worrying about taking care of themselves and their family living in poverty, I think is a huge moral issue,” said Edwards, in an interview with Beliefnet.com, “I would say the same thing about the 47 million people who don’t have health care coverage.”

Edwards reiterated his message earlier in December at the Heartland Presidential Forum in Iowa.

“It is not just an election and politics,” he stated, “It is the great moral test for our generation.”

Edwards was born, baptized and reared as a Southern Baptist by religious parents in South Carolina. His father was also a notable deacon within the church. Edwards shares his personal faith story on the campaign trail, telling voters that it was the death of his 16-year-old son that brought both him and his wife back to their faith; he also cites his faith as helping them cope with his wife’s breast cancer.

“My faith, my belief in Christ, plays an enormous role in the way I view the world,” he said during a CNN Democratic debate in June.

Edwards’ campaign did not return phone calls from the Register.In spite of Edwards’ focus on moral issues, his presidential platform remains staunchly pro-abortion, which remains a focal issue for many religious voters.

“There is no doubt that both he and his wife are very pro-abortion,” said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life, “They have made no bones about it, from what I have heard on the issue.”

“John Edwards is pro-choice — not pro-choice reluctantly, not pro-choice usually; he is simply pro-choice,” said his wife Elizabeth during a Planned Parenthood Action forum in July. The forum also included speeches from Clinton and Obama; each candidate received $1,837 in campaign donations from the PPA fund.

Edwards’ speech highlighted her husband’s government health-care plan, promising to cover all abortions. “Only a truly universal health-care plan guarantees that every woman will have her health-care needs met,” Elizabeth Edwards said. “And those needs, of course, include reproductive health services. All reproductive health services, including pregnancy termination, will be available components of his plan.”

Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the partial-birth abortion ban that was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, Edwards joined prominent Democrats denouncing the decision.

“This hard right turn is a stark reminder of why Democrats cannot afford to lose the 2008 election,” said Edwards. “Too much is at stake — starting with, as the court made all too clear today, a woman’s right to choose.”

Holt noted that any attempts to diminish his record on abortion in Iowa would be false.

“They know that they have to appeal to the whole American electorate,” she said, “but they have to appease their base. They’re going to try to have it both ways.”

Holt noted that as a North Carolina senator, Edwards consistently voted a pro-abortion position on important legislation.

Edwards was widely criticized for his response to a controversy last year surrounding two of his campaign bloggers, for making anti-Catholic statements on their personal blogs. The controversial statements called Pope Benedict XVI a “dictator” and referred to Christian voters as Bush’s “wingnut Christofascist base.”

Another post criticized the Catholic teachings on the sanctity of human life, sexual morality and contraception as “a way to disrupt people’s lives so the Church can get more control.”

Other material suggested that if the Virgin Mary had taken the “Plan B” contraceptive pill, then Catholics would “have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.”

The statements were widely denounced by Catholic activists who demanded that both of the bloggers be fired from his staff.

Edwards further infuriated Catholics when he chose to keep them on his staff, claiming that the controversial statements were not intended to disparage or offend people of faith.

As the controversy continued, the two bloggers resigned from the campaign.

Edwards has never denounced the bloggers.

“I came away with a feeling that, No. 1, they did not intend to demean anyone’s faith,” said Edwards in a March interview with beliefnet.com concerning his response, and added, “I decided to forgive them and stand by them, knowing there would be potential political consequences for that.”

“I’m satisfied that they were forced out but I don’t think he handled it very well,” said William Donohue, president of Catholic League, who was at the forefront of religious critics. Donohue noted that Edwards showed “faulty judgment.”

“It showed clumsiness in the way he handled things.”

Charlie Spiering is based in

Washington, D.C.