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For Edwards, an Increasingly Prominent Role

Democrat Defends Record, Blasts Bush

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; Page A04

MILWAUKEE, Oct. 10 -- Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards made rare appearances on all the Sunday morning talk shows, saying that in spite of historic elections, Afghanistan is far from a successful democracy, while defending his positions on the Iraq war and tort reform.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Edwards did not challenge the legitimacy of Afghanistan's first presidential election on Saturday. But he said the country continues to be dangerous and that it still has a long way to go before it can be considered a successful democracy, as he said the Bush administration has suggested.

"If you look at what's actually happened in Afghanistan since the Taliban was toppled, their opium production is back up. They're producing 75 percent of the world's opium," Edwards said. "On top of that, there are big chunks of the country still in the control of warlords and drug lords, and there are still some serious security issues in the country."

Edwards also disputed a White House assertion made earlier Sunday that it was right to topple Saddam Hussein even if he had no illegal weapons because he posed a threat. On "Fox News Sunday," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that President Bush was correct in launching the invasion of Iraq even if U.S. officials had known, as they do now, that the former Iraqi president had no stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"There are lots of threats waiting to happen all over the world," Edwards said. "That doesn't mean that that justifies invading a country."

The North Carolina senator also brushed off questions that he had altered his votes on the Iraq war, while stressing that the administration has failed to adequately dismantle al Qaeda.

Edwards's appearances on the morning talk shows underscore his emerging role as the presidential campaign enters its final three weeks. An Edwards aide said Sunday that in the week after his debate with Vice President Cheney, Edwards has been called on to take a more prominent role in disputing Republican accusations and solidifying the women's vote, which Democrats were becoming increasingly concerned about several weeks ago.

Political analysts late last month also criticized the Kerry-Edwards campaign for not using Edwards, who is often considered more telegenic than Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, in a more high-profile way. Edwards appeared on several daytime shows in New York last week that appeal to women -- and he tailored remarks on Thursday in Bayonne, N.J., toward security issues that continue to concern women.

The aide said the Kerry camp considered the days after the debate to be a "victory lap" for Edwards, which included stops in Michigan and Pennsylvania -- two battleground states where polls suggest that Kerry has a slight edge. The aide said that Edwards would be called upon to take on a continuing high profile over the coming days, particularly on the domestic issues that will be the center of the last debate between Bush and Kerry on Wednesday in Tempe, Ariz.

"We expect a continued prominent role" in the coming weeks, the aide said.

That strategy was illustrated Sunday in the nation's heartland, as Edwards stopped in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which has tilted toward the Democratic ticket in recent polls. Edwards was the most active candidate on the trail Sunday, stopping at a Milwaukee-area church and diner and leading a rally outside Minneapolis, which attracted what his aides said was a crowd of 7,000 people. In each case, Edwards touched on the themes of health care and jobs.

At the diner, Edwards spent about 30 minutes talking with female voters. He hugged a tearful resident of nearby Racine, who was concerned about health care for her two asthmatic children.

"Every time a . . . drug company was against something, they were against it," Edwards said of the Bush administration. "It's wrong. I don't know how else to say it."

On the morning shows, Edwards took some of his toughest questioning when he was asked about his stance on tort reform, which Bush and Cheney have started to make a central issue in their attacks on Edwards, who is a trial lawyer. Republicans argue that the increasing cost of medical malpractice insurance has been impelled by malpractice lawsuits.

"I am not for taking away the rights of the most seriously injured. For one thing, I don't think, in places where that's been done, it's had an impact on malpractice premiums," Edwards said. "But we think . . . the more important thing to do is keep cases out of the system that don't belong in the system."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company