COLUMBIA, S.C. -- North Carolina Sen. John Edwards had a warm homecoming at South Carolina's Democratic Party convention Saturday.
As Edwards stepped from the stage here, a crowd quickly engulfed the Seneca native and chanted: "John Edwards for vice president! John Edwards for vice president! John Edwards for vice president!"
Edwards wouldn't talk about being a potential running mate for U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts beyond saying "it was nice to hear people's support."
Also at the convention, party chairman Joe Erwin broke tradition by endorsing Inez Tenenbaum's U.S. Senate bid before the Democrats have picked their nominee.
For Edwards, it's not the first time the crowd at the state convention has embraced him.
Eleven months ago, the state convention gave its strongest cheers to Edwards, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and the Rev. Al Sharpton. They finished the South Carolina primary in February in just that order, with Edwards, taking 45 percent of the vote to Kerry's 30 percent. But after South Carolina, Edwards nearly always finished well off Kerry's pace.
The hottest-selling buttons at the convention "Kerry-Edwards" buttons, followed by "Yellow Dog Democrat."
Edwards repeated campaign themes in a speech that emphasized a lagging economy and manufacturing job losses.
The Bush administration isn't doing enough to protect American workers whose jobs are being lost as companies move their work abroad, he said. "What would be good for the American economy is to outsource this administration," Edwards said.
Edwards started his Columbia visit with a fund raiser for Tenenbaum in her bid to replace Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who is retiring in January after six terms.
While Tenenbaum faces a Democratic primary challenger in Ben Frasier, who has been a perennial U.S. House candidate, she won Erwin's open endorsement on Saturday.
"Will you stand by our great Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum for the United States Senate?" Erwin called out.
"Yes, we will," the crowd shouted back.
Party leaders usually withhold endorsements until after a contested primary. Erwin said he asked Frasier to address the convention, but that wasn't accepted.
"Plus, the comments that have been made by that candidate ... endorsed Republican positions," Erwin said. "Inez is our candidate as far as I'm concerned. ... We need to get behind her."
Tenenbaum touched on the economy, health care and education in her speech. She said she would not vote for a trade agreement "until its impact on South Carolina" is clear. If elected, she would fight to ensure that education is not "a road paved with broken promises."
Tenenbaum said she imagines "a South Carolina that provides children the ladder of education and lets them climb as far and high as their God-given talents allow."
Beyond November's races, some delegates already had begun thinking about who might challenge Republican Gov. Mark Sanford in 2006. Convention-goers most frequently mentioned Erwin and Clearwater Sen. Tommy Moore possible candidates.
Erwin is recognized most for turning the party around after the 2002 elections left Democrats with just two of nine statewide constitutional offices. Moore, from a part of the state that leans Republican, is known in the Senate as the go-to legislator to broker deals and resolve conflicts.
"Will I think about it? Perhaps," Erwin said.
Moore said he is concentrating now on his November re-election bid. Still, Moore said, most elected people think about higher office, he said.
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