Originally created 04/08/06

Athens becomes political hot spot



ATHENS, Ga. - The University of Georgia campus was abuzz Friday as the historic college town suddenly became a political hot spot.

Former President George H. W. Bush dedicated the school's new $40 million biomedical and health science center, a centerpiece of the university's growing focus on health research.

Across campus, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, a one-time Democratic presidential hopeful, gave the keynote address for the law school's inaugural Working in the Public Interest conference.

All the while, excited students hummed with sightings of the politicians and the Georgia power brokers who accompanied them to town, pointing out Secret Service officers around the sunny campus and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the spry ex-president and tanned Democratic vice presidential nominee.

During the dedication, Mr. Bush focused most of his comments on the new building's namesake, former U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, who died in 2000 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

"His presence on Capitol Hill is still sorely missed," Mr. Bush said of Mr. Coverdell, a Republican who he said was more interested in getting things done than worrying about who was taking credit for it. "To the end, Paul Coverdell was a great unifier," he said.

He did not take questions after the speech.

Mr. Edwards spoke a mile or so away, where he challenged students and faculty to fight poverty, "the great moral cause in America."

His remarks touched on familiar issues he raised during his 2004 campaign. He pushed for a higher minimum wage, expanded tax credits for low-income families and free college tuition for the needy. And he urged the country's leaders to energize their fight against injustice and oppression around the globe.

"Where is America?" he asked. "... The world needs to see what we're made of. They need to see that we're strong, but that we also have a moral vision."

The high-profile visits gave Georgia's top politicians a chance to show their partisan colors.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, enthusiastically introduced Mr. Edwards as a "good man and a great friend," before giving way to the former North Carolina lawmaker.

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue welcomed the ex-president while a sea of state GOP officials and candidates, including lieutenant governor contender Ralph Reed, looked on.

The two visits, which the campus newspaper suggested made it the biggest political day in Athens' history, also created some unwanted side effects.

As an anxious crowd twitched in anticipation of Mr. Edwards' arrival, they were told the former senator would be delayed about 10 minutes.

The reason: It seemed that Mr. Edwards and Mr. Bush had tried to arrive at Athens' tiny regional airport at the same time.