Edwards Answers Criticism During Poverty Tour

By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; 6:38 PM

CLEVELAND-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards defended himself against criticism that his expensive haircuts and lucrative income from a hedge fund undercut his campaign's effort to highlight the issue of poverty in America.

In an interview for the washingtonpost.com news program "PostTalk" Edwards said his life and career demonstrate the sincerity of his commitment to the plight of low-income Americans and continued willingness to push the issue forward during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Anybody who's running for president ought to be subjected to serious examination from every conceivable angle," Edwards said. "So theres nothing wrong with that. What bothers me about this is, I don't want whatever personal criticism people have of me to detract in any way from the people whose lives we're trying to help. That's the only thing about it that's troublesome."

Edwards cited his work as a trial lawyer defending people against major corporations, the poverty center he started after the 2004 campaign, an after-school center he and his wife Elizabeth created that caters largely to low-income students, as well as a program designed to make it possible for low-income students to go to college.

"This is something I've cared about for a very long time," he said. "I'm proud of what I've done. But it is the nature of presidential politics that anything you do is going to be looked at through a microscope. So I expect that."

Edwards was interviewed midway through a three-day poverty tour that will take him from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans to stricken areas of Mississippi to an inner city neighborhood here threatened by foreclosures to rural communities in Appalachia.

The purpose, aides said, is to shine a light on a problem that Edwards believes the country has too long ignored. He is retracing some of the steps taken by Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy during the 1960s as they sought to highlight the problems of poverty.

During the interview, Edwards outlined policies he would seek to implement to achieve his goal of ending poverty within three decades. He also described what steps he would take if a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq resulted in an escalation of sectarian violence or even genocide. He also made clear that he believes he would have a better chance of winning a general election than any other candidate seeking the Democratic nomination.

As the Senate continues debate on a series of resolutions aimed at changing U.S. policy in Iraq, Edwards said he remains committed to his view that legislators should not give in to the White House and should continue to send President Bush funding bills that include a timetable for withdrawal.

Edwards said he opposes a precipitous withdrawal but would like to see all combat forces out of Iraq over a period of about a year. But he also outlined contingency steps he favors to guard against the violence spiraling out of control once U.S. forces leave.

Among those steps would be establishing a rapid deployment force in Kuwait and exploring the stationing of U.S. forces in Jordan, if that government approves. He also said if the situation went totally out of control, he would consider establishing buffer zones around the borders of Iraq and steps to move people out of major population centers.

Edwards said he would not make a judgment about sending U.S. forces back into Iraq if there were a genocide taking place and argued that the rest of the world should step up under United Nations auspices to deal with such a humanitarian crisis.

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