Edwards launches bid for U.S. presidency

By Jeff Franks
Thursday, December 28, 2006; 1:15 PM

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - In a bleak New Orleans neighborhood still wrecked from Hurricane Katrina, Democrat John Edwards launched a run for the presidency on Thursday with a call to cut U.S. troops in Iraq, restore American leadership in the world and end poverty.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 said the United States must lead not just with its military might but through a "moral authority" that had been eroded by the administration of President George W. Bush.

"We didn't used to be the country of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. We were the great light for the rest of the world and America needs to be that light again," said Edwards, wearing blue jeans, work boots and an open-neck shirt.

"We've had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in history -- (former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld, (Vice President Dick) Cheney -- they've been an absolute disaster by any measure."

Edwards, 53, is the third candidate to formally jump into a Democratic race in which he ultimately might have to compete for money and support with leading contenders Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

One December poll of 600 likely voters in Iowa, a crucial state because it holds the first presidential nominating contest in January 2008, placed Edwards joint first with Obama at 22 percent, although early surveys are not always seen as reliable indicators.

Edwards called for a U.S. exit from Iraq, starting with the withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops, saying that the only solution to the violence there was a political one. The former Senator from North Carolina voted to approve the war, but said he now realized it was a mistake.

He also said the United States should join the fight against global warming. Other nations, he said, "need to see our better angels again."


To drive home his populist message, Edwards opened his campaign in New Orleans' debris-strewn Ninth Ward, which was wiped out in Hurricane Katrina last year and where the storm's mostly poor victims are still struggling to rebuild.

"New Orleans in so many ways shows the two Americas I have talked about in the past," he said. "We need to show that the most powerful nation on the earth won't stand by and let this continue."

Edwards, who has opened an anti-poverty center in North Carolina and promised during his first presidential bid to be "a champion for regular people" campaigned with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004 on closing the economic gap between the "two Americas" -- one for the comfortable and another for the struggling.

He has proposed work, housing and school measures aimed at lifting millions of Americans out of poverty in the next 10 years, and wants a goal of ending poverty within 30 years.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich are the other Democrats who have officially entered the race. Edwards' 2004 running mate Kerry and a half-dozen other Democrats are expected to decide in the next few weeks. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he will run but has not made an official announcement.

Edwards, the son of a millworker and the first person in his family to attend college, was one of the country's most successful and wealthy personal injury attorneys before entering politics in 1998.

He left the Senate after one term to run for president, entering the primaries as a potential "fresh face" before candidates like Howard Dean and Kerry zoomed past him to lead the pack.

His roots in the South, where he grew up in North and South Carolina, could be an asset for a party trying to broaden its appeal. The last three Democratic presidents -- Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas -- were from the South.

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