RALEIGH, N.C. — Vice presidential nominee John Edwards criticized the Bush administration for its policies on health care and its execution of the war in Iraq in an appearance in his hometown.
Echoing comments by his running mate, presidential nominee John Kerry, the North Carolina senator said Monday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney refuse to acknowledge mistakes they have made in their leadership of the war.
"Iraq's a mess. And Iraq is a mess because of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. It's that simple," Edwards told supporters at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Edwards said the administration's decision to go to war rather than build a broader international coalition has resulted in a $200 billion price tag for American taxpayers. And he said subsequent events have shown the administration's reasons for going to war to be suspect.
Edwards also blamed the White House for census figures that he said show 340,000 North Carolinians have lost health insurance since 2000.
"George Bush's health care plan for the past four years has been, 'Pray you don't get sick,"' Edwards said.
He accused Bush of favoring pharmaceutical companies and insurers over citizens.
"Over and over, they've shown who they're with. They'll never be with you," he told the crowd.
Edwards touted his ticket's recommended health care improvements, which include tax credits for employers who provide insurance for their workers, getting rid of frivolous lawsuits and expanding health care coverage for children.
"What we want to do is first -- make the same healthcare that's available to the U.S. Senate available to every single American," Edwards said.
In a release, the Kerry-Edwards campaign cited federal data showing that North Carolina residents will pay $162 million more next year thanks to a 17-percent increase in Medicare premiums announced earlier this month.
A Bush-Cheney spokesman, Reed Dickens, fired back.
"John Kerry and John Edwards today offered more confusion and pessimism on the most important issue facing America today," Dickens said of the Iraq criticism. "John Kerry's Iraq policy has devolved into utter and complete incoherence. This sends the wrong signal to our troops, the Iraqi people and our enemy."
And he said the Democratic proposals on health care would take choice away from inidividuals.
"John Kerry is proposing a plan that empowers Washington, D.C. and shifts the cost to the taxpayers," Dickens said. "You'd think John Kerry would have learned from the past that big government health care is the wrong solution."
Audience member Ken Skinner, 49, said he's watched his health care premiums go up annually while benefits seem to decrease.
"We just pay them more money and more money," said Skinner, who works with Electronic Data Systems, Inc. in Raleigh.
Gail Dunham, a retired American Airlines employee from Greensboro said Bush's handling of the war in Iraq has contributed to the nation's health-care woes.
"For $1 trillion, we could have health care, education, improvements to our infrastructure," Dunham said. "Iraq is what's taken everything away from the American people."
The event capped a busy two weeks for presidential politics in North Carolina.
During the period, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry spoke in Greensboro, while Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, met with military families in Fayetteville and visited Winston-Salem. For the Republicans, President Bush held a town hall meeting Friday in Charlotte and raised money for U.S. Senate candidate Richard Burr.
Polls have shown Bush with a slight lead over Kerry in North Carolina. The state's electoral votes have gone to GOP nominees in every election since 1976, but Kerry's choice of Edwards as his running mate has raised hopes that Democrats can capture the state.
One longtime Democrat in the audience Monday said Edwards' presence on the ticket is exciting.
"John Edwards is young, he's smart. I think he would be the right thing for the country," said Nathaniel Hines, an 83-year-old retired university auditor.