Edwards speaks in Aiken

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, clad in a sports jacket and stonewashed jeans, visited Aiken on Saturday, asking a spirited crowd to vote for change and stand up for the middle class in this year's election.

Speaking to the hundreds that packed into the University of South Carolina Aiken's Etherredge Center, the presidential hopeful touted himself as the son of a South Carolina mill worker who understands the needs of America's people.

"When will we have a president that has a little backbone to stand up for low-income families and middle-class families?" Mr. Edwards asked.

Aiken resident Carol Sharpe said she enjoyed Mr. Edwards' down-to-earth persona and his stance on the Iraq war and health care. But she said she hasn't decided whether he is her top choice for the Democratic nomination.

Lam Le, another Aiken resident who attended Saturday's event, said Mr. Edwards stands out because of his policies outside the country.

"He's one of only two candidates that have a policy for Darfur," Ms. Le said. "We have to stop the genocide that's going on there."

On the topic of foreign policy, Mr. Edwards spoke about ending the Iraq war in his first year in office should he be elected. He also talked about universal health care, raising the minimum wage and putting a cap on carbon emissions to combat global warming.

"It's time for us to be patriotic about something other than the war," Mr. Edwards said. "That means we're going to have to sacrifice and conserve in our homes and drive different types of cars."

Maurine Meleck, of North Augusta, said she has no doubt that Mr. Edwards would best lead the country. Her grandson suffers from autism, and Mr. Edwards has reached out to those in need of mental health care, she said.

"He's a man that will stand up for the children," Ms. Meleck said. "I like what he has to say about universal health care. You can't imagine what families with autistic children go through."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.