Edwards Touts Southern Roots

The Associated Press
Monday, April 16, 2007; 11:09 AM

SENECA, S.C. -- Presidential candidate John Edwards focused on aiding rural economies Monday, while using his small town birthplace as a backdrop to tout himself as a Southern Democrat with Dixie appeal.

Edwards was set to announce a plan to boost rural economies, adding the six-page Rural Recovery Act to his growing list of liberal policy proposals, which also includes a withdrawal of forces from Iraq, universal health care and a repeal of some of President Bush's tax cuts to pay for it.

Some of his positions put him to the left of Southern conservative voters, so Edwards was trying to woo them by focusing on his common roots and promising to make rural America a priority.

He began the day at the small pink house in Seneca, where he lived the first months of his life. Then he campaigned with the breakfast crowd at Jimmy's Family Restaurant nearby, sipping ice tea with his parents and other family members. The local residents applauded when he entered and local historian Louisa Matheson Bell gave him a copy of her book, "Seneca: Visions of Yesterday."

"We're so proud of you," she said, pointing to pictures in the book of Edwards as a baby.

Outside, Edwards told reporters he recognizes that Democrats have trouble winning elections in South Carolina. "I'm different than some Democrats because I grew up in the South," Edwards said.

He was scheduled to travel to Nashville, Tenn., for a lunchtime press conference followed by a bluegrass concert headlined by Del McCoury and Rodney Crowell at the Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974.

Edwards is trying to boost his image of electability in the general election campaign. The last three Democratic presidents have been from the South and Edwards is the only southern Democrat in the 2008 race.

But he's also looking to pick up votes in the rural states that will play an important role in the Democratic primary. States that plan to hold elections on the super primary day of Feb. 5, 2008, include Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

His rural recovery tour included a stop Sunday night in southwest New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, and will lead to an upcoming weekend tour across Iowa, which holds the first nominating caucus. He also planned a rally in Roanoke, Va., Thursday, headlined by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and Ben Jones, who played Cooter in the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Edwards' rural recovery plan is rooted in his campaign platform of addressing economic inequalities.

It includes $1 billion in spending on initiatives like increased investment in rural small businesses, education, health care and resources to fight methamphetamine abuse. It also offers an overall commitment to make sure rural communities are first in line for health care, energy and anti-poverty resources.

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