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Kerry Reaches Voters on the Porch

By Vanessa Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page A09

NEW ORLEANS, July 15 -- Donald Carrere told Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) that rising costs for prescription drugs, gasoline and homeowners insurance in recent years have made annual salary increases almost worthless.

"It just seems like every time I get a raise or an increase one way or the other, it's sucked up by something else," said Carrere, a service manager for BellSouth whose latest challenge is coming up with money to send his son to Morehouse College this fall.

The Democratic vice presidential candidate nodded. "Those things go up faster than your income does," he said as he chatted with Carrere, his wife, Charmaine, and two neighbors during a "front porch visit" Thursday afternoon.

At about the same time in a suburb of Philadelphia, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was paying a similar social call to Bill and Mary Kay Bowden. It is all part the campaign's newest tactic: "Front Porch Tour: Hometown Values for a Stronger America."

"I wish the president was doing this," Edwards said. "You have to do this to hear what's going on." Bush has recently begun to take a few questions from supporters at forums his campaign calls "Ask President Bush."

The 100-plus-degree temperature in the Big Easy forced Edwards out of his suit coat for the event, which drew about 15 neighbors, who got to listen in on the conversation over a public address system.

After the porch visit, Edwards met with about 200 supporters at the Letter Carriers Union Hall, where he was loudly applauded for criticizing the Bush administration's policies. In response to a question about the country's inability to stem the flow of illegal drugs across its borders and into cities such as New Orleans, Edwards criticized Bush's management of the war in Afghanistan.

Although the administration ousted the Taliban, Edwards said that "we did not take the steps that needed to be made to make that country more secure. So what has happened now is the warlords and the drug lords have come back to positions of power, and they're manufacturing heroin at an extraordinary rate."

Edwards, whose foreign policy credentials have been questioned by Republicans, says that he and Kerry believe improving international relations could be an effective weapon in the war on terrorism. "We need to have relationships with the rest of the world that are positive, that are productive so that we can work with our friends and allies around the world to get to these terrorist cells before they do us harm," he said.

After addressing the NAACP convention in Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon, Kerry drove about 15 miles west to Lansdowne, Pa., , a blue-collar suburb of 11,000 people, in a county Al Gore barely won in 2000. On a leafy street with medium-size brick and wood homes, he met the Bowden family and was introduced over a loudspeaker before greeting the Bowden's friends and neighbors on their porch.

"I lived on a street very much like this," Kerry told the crowd, referring to the portion of his childhood spent in Washington. He described playing ball in the streets and sledding in the front yard and seeing a neighbor return home wounded from the Korean War. "I love the sense of community," he said. "I know enough about it to know what it means to you. It's the heart of America."

His campaign also announced that it had accepted an independent commission's schedule for three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. The Bush-Cheney campaign made no similar commitment. Bush's aides said he and Cheney will participate in debates, but they would not say how many or when or where.

Staff writer Jonathan Finer, traveling with Kerry, contributed to this report.

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