Monday, July 16, 2007

"Edwards Embarks on Tour in South to Focus on Poverty"

NY Times:
John Edwards came back on Sunday to a rainy New Orleans, the city where he kicked off his presidential bid last December, to start a three-day tour of poverty-stricken parts of the rural South and the urban Midwest in a bid to draw attention to one of his main campaign issues: the elimination of poverty.
The Edwards campaign billed the event as “a break from his normal campaign schedule,” although it was anything but. At the last minute, the campaign announced that Elizabeth Edwards, the candidate’s wife, was joining the tour.

The campaign also lined up more than 40 news organizations for the trip, and reporters and the Edwardses will travel in a chartered jet. And on Monday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards are scheduled to be on “Good Morning America” on ABC before hitting the road.

The eight-state tour is intended “to shine a bright spotlight on the issue of poverty in America,” the campaign said in a statement. “Edwards will meet with people struggling with poverty in order to share their personal stories with the nation.”

The tour may not be a campaign in the strictest sense. Mr. Edwards will not be traveling through early primary states, soliciting votes or holding fund-raisers. But the tour is intended to burnish his image on the issue he has made a signature campaign theme. In doing so, he is setting out to associate himself with leaders of the civil rights movement. He has scheduled a visit to Marks, Miss., where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his Poor People’s March in 1968, and the tour will end in Prestonburg, Ky., where Robert F. Kennedy concluded a tour of impoverished areas, also in 1968.

Mr. Edwards, a former one-term Democratic senator from North Carolina and the losing vice-presidential candidate in 2004, is facing an uphill battle against Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are leading him in polls and in fund-raising. And while Iraq and health care appear to head the list of voter concerns, Mr. Edwards is promoting himself as someone who cares about the poor and who has risen from the bottom himself. In doing do, he is staking a more populist stance than his opponents.

During his tour of the Lower Ninth Ward on Sunday night, Mr. Edwards spoke to residents and others who turned out in the devastated neighborhood.

“We have an awful lot of work to do,” he said. “You take the words ‘working poor’ — these are two words that should not be in combination in the United States. Most of the country is not aware of the rebuilding by you folks. You’re not getting any help, and America needs to be there for New Orleans.”

In the neighborhood, a broad expanse littered with broken-down houses, federal emergency trailers and empty lots, the Edwardses met with local housing activists.

“Looks like what I saw when I was here last time,” Mr. Edwards said. “Some people are working to rebuild their lives, but they’re not getting much help from the government.”

In making his presidential announcement last December, Mr. Edwards chose middle-class East New Orleans as his setting, and he called for greater citizen activism in the face of government inaction. This time, he started his tour with an evening walk through the Lower Ninth Ward, which has become a symbol of poverty and long-standing government neglect.

Since 2004, Mr. Edwards has incorporated his views on poverty into his political approach. Last week, at community meetings in Iowa, not a single person attending a campaign event asked him about poverty. But at each stop, he raised the issue, speaking with passion and calling it a “moral” issue facing America.

His association with the issue also helped keep him in the public eye while he was out of office. He set up the Center on Poverty Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina law school, which enabled the school to research poverty and also provided a platform for Mr. Edwards after he left Washington.

From a strictly political standpoint, it is unclear how much Mr. Edwards will gain from this theme. Dennis J. Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines, said most people who turn out to vote do not think of themselves as poor and do not identify with the message.

“Even if they may be poor, many don’t think that they are,” Mr. Goldford said. “They don’t think that he is talking to them.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Edwards has made any headway among poor voters. A Washington Post-ABC poll in July showed that he drew scant support from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents with household incomes under $20,000. Mrs. Clinton got the bulk of the support at 55 percent, Mr. Obama drew 20 percent and Mr. Edwards received 10 percent.
Howie P.S.: The WaPo now has a story, too: "Democrat Edwards starts poverty tour." I can't help asking, is there anyone named Edwards out there in the world that journalists work in who isn't a Democrat?

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