State News

Edwards Touts Positive Agenda Before Hometown Crowd

Posted December 30, 2006 9:25 p.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2006 7:48 p.m. EST

— Presidential hopeful John Edwards finished a six-state campaign tour on Saturday evening, returning to his home state where an overflowing crowd greeted him at an outdoor rally.

About 5,000 people, according to campaign officials, packed onto a grassy area across from Edwards' Chapel Hill headquarters for the homecoming. Hundreds held "Tomorrow Begins Today" signs - a reference to Edwards' effort to persuade Democrats to get involved in the 2008 presidential campaign early.

Doing his best to look like one of the crowd in a fleece jacket and jeans, Edwards energized supporters with his presidential pitch.

"I am here tonight to reach out to your friends, family neighbors,” Edwards said. “I cannot change this country by myself. All of us have to do it."

He emphasized his campaign catchphrase, "Tomorrow Begins Today", calling on Americans to create change for themselves.

"We're going to start taking action now,” Edwards said. “I came here tonight to ask you to join us now."

While Edwards expressed relief to be home, some Democrats in the crowd said the former senator has yet to convince them that he should get their support.

"There's a long time to go," said Melissa Polier, 51, of Chapel Hill. "I want the Democrats to choose someone who will win. Period. We cannot afford another four years of a Republican in the White House."

Several people, including Rachel Frew of Chapel Hill, said they were happy Edwards chose to launch his campaign in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. But Frew also said her neighbors stayed home from Saturday's event because they are still unhappy Edwards only spent one term in the U.S. Senate. North Carolina now has two Republicans serving in the Senate.

"I think he's going to have some work to do in this state to carry North Carolina," Frew said.

However, the positive agenda that Edwards is touting in his second presidential bid has registered Republican Laura Cunningham considering switching sides in 2008.

"I think he really understands the issues, and has some solid ideas on how we can make progress,” Cunningham said.

After launching his campaign in New Orleans on Thursday, Edwards traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina before finishing in the city where he attended law school.

American flags were draped on a stage set up in the grassy square, and flags also hung from a few businesses in the surrounding shopping center. Children held red, white and blue balloons, and people chanted "Edwards! Edwards!" as they waited nearly two hours for the candidate to arrive from a stop in Columbia, South Carolina

In contrast to his town hall meeting in Columbia, where he fielded several questions about the Bush administration and criticized the president's policies, Edwards hardly mentioned Bush in Chapel Hill. Instead, he focused on sharing his vision for the country.

"We were the place that everyone wanted to be like. We have to be that place again," he said.

Edwards spoke for nearly 25 minutes, briefly mentioning the issues on which he's built his campaign so far - poverty, universal health care, global warming, and working toward what he calls "moral leadership in the world."

He reiterated his opposition to sending a surge of U.S. troops to Iraq and said an escalation of the war should be rejected.

"We have to make it clear - absolutely clear - that we intend to leave Iraq," he said.

Edwards then talked about places elsewhere in the world where he thinks the United States could make a difference, such as in the Darfur region of Sudan, where fighting has left more than 200,000 people dead and some 2.5 million homeless.

And he said the United States has to be a leader when it comes to taking action on global warming.

"It is time for our leaders to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than just war," Edwards said.

The crowd included some Edwards faithful. Kathy Faust of Raleigh, who supported Edwards' 2004 presidential bid, said she thinks his chances are even better in 2008.

"I think he has broader experience. He's been out internationally and is also really looking at the problems important to our country," she said.

With senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama grabbing many of the early headlines in the race,
Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, said they are pleased with the progress of the early campaign push.

“It's the perfect mesh of content and process,” Elizabeth Edwards told WRAL. “It's what John believes in terms of the content and the way he's doing it, reaching out, involving other people.”

After traveling to six states in six days, John Edwards told WRAL: "It's been extraordinarily exciting, and it's been very encouraging so far."