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Edwards Formally Joins 2008 Presidential Race

With young volunteers in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward, Democrat John Edwards announced his campaign for president. Edwards helped this week to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
With young volunteers in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward, Democrat John Edwards announced his campaign for president. Edwards helped this week to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (By Tracie Morris Schaefer -- Bloomberg News)

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 28 -- Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina launched his second campaign for the White House from this flood-ravaged city Thursday with a call for the United States to reduce its troop presence in Iraq and a plea for citizen action to combat poverty, global warming and America's reliance on foreign oil.

Edwards was sharply critical of the administration for its conduct of the war in Iraq, and he again recanted his own vote authorizing President Bush to take the country to war, which he called a mistake.

"The biggest responsibility of the next president of the United States is to reestablish America's leadership role in the world, starting with Iraq," Edwards told reporters during his morning announcement. "We need to make it clear that we intend to leave Iraq and turn over the responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqi people."

Edwards said he favors withdrawing 40,000 to 50,000 troops from Iraq as a signal to Iraqis that the United States intends to turn over responsibility for the conflict to the government there. Wading into the current debate in Washington about Iraq, he forcefully rejected proposals to send more troops to help quell the bloody sectarian violence there.

"I want to be absolutely clear about this," he said. "It is a mistake for America to escalate its role in Iraq. It is a mistake to surge troops into Iraq. It sends exactly the wrong signal to the Iraqis and the rest of the world about what our intentions are there."

Edwards also said he favors rolling back some of the tax cuts given to the wealthiest Americans by the Bush administration, and he proposed a windfall profits tax on the oil industry, saying additional money will be needed to pay for vital domestic needs.

"I think it's also really important that we be honest with people," he said. "We've gotten in a deep hole, in terms of our deficit. We have investments that need to be made." He cited help for middle-class Americans, anti-poverty programs, universal health care and energy initiatives as examples.

From his choice of setting to his message, Edwards used the opening day of his 2008 bid to signal that he intends to run a populist, insurgent campaign designed to show that he is not a candidate of Washington, in contrast to his likely Democratic rivals -- including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

"This campaign will be a grass-roots, ground-up campaign, where we ask people to take action," he said.

Edwards staged his announcement in the city's Ninth Ward, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last year. He spoke from a debris-strewn property where a home was heavily damaged by Katrina's floodwaters; it was adjacent to a newly renovated property where he spent several hours Wednesday working with young volunteers to landscape the back yard.

Edwards said no city better symbolizes the "two Americas" -- haves and have-nots -- that he spoke about during his 2004 campaign. But he said New Orleans also shows the good that can come when people act for themselves, rather than relying solely on the government.

The day was shorn of most of the trappings of traditional presidential campaign announcements. The candidate appeared wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, standing alone rather than surrounded by family or supporters. The only people in the background were the young volunteers he had worked with on Wednesday.


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