Edwards looks to keep tide rolling


Photo courtesy of Edwards for president
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards campaigned in Bristol on Friday as voters in Tennessee and Virginia prepare to go to the polls on Tuesday.

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   BRISTOL, Tenn. -- North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said he expects to do well, but does not feel he must win primaries in Tennessee and Virginia on Tuesday to remain a contender for the Democratic nomination.
   Edwards campaigned here Friday afternoon vowing to take the South from President Bush and refuting allegations he did not support legislation to fund veterans programs.
   "The South is not George Bush's backyard," Edwards told scores of raucous supporters at the Bristol YWCA. "You give me a shot at George Bush, I will give you the White House."
   Democrats hope that assertion comes true in November. Bush swept the South four years ago including besting Democratic nominee Al Gore in his home state of Tennessee.
   Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry continues to set the pace for Democratic candidates after winning Saturday's Washington state and Michigan caucuses. Kerry has nine wins of 11 nominating state contests thus far. He boosted his total delegates to 324 after Saturday's wins while Edwards stands in third place with 110 delegates. The Democratic nominee needs 2,162 delegates to secure the nomination when the Democratic National Convention opens in Boston on July 26.
   If he wins the nomination or is part of the Democratic ticket, Edwards' appeal could play a critical role for Democrats in the South where President Bush swept the 2000 presidential election.
   With less than one week remaining before the Tennessee President Primary, Edwards appearance was marked with heavy turnouts by citizens looking to see a bit of national political celebrity. Edwards told reporters Friday that he did not have to win both states on Tuesday to remain a contender.
   "My campaign is not about John Kerry, or for that matter, any other Democratic candidate," said Edwards. "It is about the American people."
   Fellow candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, has accused Edwards of voting against legislation that funded veterans programs. Clark was also in Bristol on Friday meeting with supporters.
   "They're wrong in what they are saying," Edwards told reporters shortly after the rally. "I have consistently supported veterans ... this is the kind of attack people are sick of."
   Edwards said that while he did not remember casting those votes, he characterized the legislation referred to by Clark as "large appropriation bills" that contained varied spending appropriations.
   Edwards has talked health care reform unveiling a plan of tax credits for parents to buy insurance from their employers or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Edwards' plan allows parents who already cover their children through their jobs will get a tax break -- about $300 for a typical family of four earning $60,000. Parents who are not presently covering their children will be able to get coverage at large discounts under the Edwards plan.
   Edwards won South Carolina contest last week and finished a close second to Clark in the Oklahoma primary. He also won over several supporters attending Friday's rally. Barbara Mahoney, of Surgoinsville who attended the Edwards rally with her husband Russell. "He's real," Mahoney said of Edwards. "He came from a everyday working family just like the rest of us."
   Laura Hobbs, a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, said many of her peers were seeking an alternative in leadership based on the nation's military action in Iraq. She also said Edwards interest in issues and his unwillingness to attack other candidates impressed her.
   "I really like that he has run a very positive campaign," said Hobbs, whose parents reside in Bristol. "He doesn't seem to come across as too leftist or too elitist, which seems to have been a challenge for the other Democratic candidates."
   Edwards, 50, was born in Seneca, S.C. and raised in Robbins, N.C. His father Wallace worked in the textile mills for 36 years, and his mother, Bobbie, ran a shop and worked at the post office. He went on to practice law in Nashville and later in North Carolina for more than 20 years. Edwards won several multimillion-dollar settlements against corporations during his legal career in civil litigation. He knocked off incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth to win his first term to the Senate in 1998.
   Kerry also campaigned in Tennessee and Virginia this weekend hitting Nashville on Friday and Memphis on Saturday. All three candidates are scheduled to appear at the Democratic fundraiser in Nashville tonight that is being hosted by Governor Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Democratic Party.