Edwards' visit garners praise from listeners

Morris News Service
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards listens to a question from an audience member in Barnwell, S.C.

BARNWELL, S.C. ---Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' "Main Street Express" campaign bus brought him to Barnwell on Saturday.


Mr. Edwards spoke for about 20 minutes at the Barnwell County Museum to a crowd of about 120 Democratic faithful, residents and curious voters before taking questions from the crowd.

"He's got a message that really reaches out to middle America. He's definitely a man of the people," said Tim Moore Jr., a Barnwell County attorney and a member of the state executive committee and the state executive council for the South Carolina Democratic Party.

"It's going to be close," Mr. Moore said of the Democratic race. "I see Hillary's campaign dropping."

Mr. Edwards, a former U.S. senator born in Seneca, S.C., now living in the textile town of Robbins, N.C., spoke in Barnwell about "the great forgotten middle class."

"I take this fight personally. I've watched the sacrifice of my grandparents and parents," he said.

Several of Mr. Edwards' answers garnered a lively crowd response -- including ones on education and immigration.

Ivan Cohen, a retired teacher in Barnwell, asked what Mr. Edwards would do about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Mr. Cohen said was frustrating.

"No child learned a thing by filling out bubbles on a standardized test. Or as a friend of mine from around here put it, 'You can't make a hog fatter by weighing it,' " Mr. Edwards said.

His proposals for No Child Left Behind include a national 4-year-old kindergarten and federal pay incentives for teachers to teach in low-performance and high-poverty school districts.

"There is no incentives but the goodness of your heart to teach in these tough places," he said.

Mr. Edwards said he would like to see the government create a national teaching institute, "something like a West Point," where teachers who attend have to commit to teaching in indigent areas as repayment of their federally subsidized education.

On immigration, Mr. Edwards said he is not for amnesty for illegal immigrants but for "a path for citizenship."

He also advocated better border security and punishing American employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

He added, "If you want to be an American citizen, you need to speak English."

The crowd cheered.

Betsy Harvey, of Barnwell, asked how Mr. Edwards would overcome the governmental gridlock in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Edwards said he would work with congressional leaders, get the American public behind his ideas and fight special-interest groups.

He deflected media questions on Sen. John Kerry throwing his support to Sen. Barack Obama. Mr. Edwards was Mr. Kerry's running mate in the Massachusetts senator's unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004.

"John Kerry is a good man. I think the world of him. People aren't going to be told who to vote for," Mr. Edwards said.

Benjamin Duncan, a Democrat and Barnwell city councilman, said after attending the town hall meeting that he is leaning toward Mr. Edwards because of his ideas on health care, energy and especially his stance on the conflict in Iraq.

Mr. Edwards said that if he gets into the White House, he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq within his first year in office.