Video Exclusive! Edwards says he won't ignore rural Americans

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By Johnathan Ryan

John Edwards told a Lancaster audience Wednesday that if he's elected president, he won't forget where he came from.

The Seneca native said rural America will be a true concern for him if he's elected.

"You have been ignored for too long," he told a packed crowd at Bundy Auditorium at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. "I will not ignore you as president."

Edwards, who is vying for the Democratic Party nomination, said Republicans don't compete for votes in rural America – because they take it for granted, and most Democrats don't because they feel they can't compete (here in national races)."

Edwards stumped here as part of his two-day Back Roads, Back Home Barnstorm tour.

Grammy award winner Dr. Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys band entertained the crowd with bluegrass music. Former U.S. Rep. Ben Jones of Georgia – perhaps better known for playing Cooter on the "Dukes of Hazzard" – expressed his full support for Edwards, a successful trial lawyer and former U.S. senator from North Carolina.

"He has the intellectual vigor of John Kennedy and the down-home ways of Jimmy Carter," Jones said.

Jones questioned why U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama get more national media attention than Edwards.

"Could that be because he fights against the corporate interests that own those media companies?" he asked.

While Edwards is trailing Clinton and Obama in South Carolina according to most polls, Jones said the media don't talk about some national polls that indicate Edwards would win against any Republican candidate if the general election were held today.

South Carolina will hold its Democratic primary Saturday.

Dressed casually in blue jeans and a track jacket, Edwards talked about going to church a few days each week and enjoying high school football as a teenager growing up in South Carolina.

As president, he promises to pursue an aggressive rural recovery plan, hoping to create a capital fund that would be available to small-town entrepreneurs, make high-speed Internet service more available in rural areas and help unemployed rural workers find jobs in the emerging "green economy," or the jobs anticipated to be created by the development of clean, renewable energy technologies.

Edwards railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central American Free Trade Agreement, saying the deals have hurt rural areas. In Lancaster County, Springs Industries supported NAFTA in the 1990s and has since seen the erosion of its manufacturing base in South Carolina.

Edwards berated Clinton for leaving the state after Monday's debate in Myrtle Beach. He questioned what her level of commitment would be to South Carolina if she were elected president.

But Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, has campaigned heavily for his wife in the state this week, while the New York senator focused mainly on states that will vote Feb. 5.

Like Edwards, Obama, a senator from Illinois, spent most of the week crisscrossing South Carolina.

Crowd response

Lancaster County Democratic Party Chairman Gil Small said Edwards connected well with the audience here, especially on comments he made about jobs that moved overseas as a result of free trade deals.

"I hope John can get it together and that the national media starts giving him some attention," Small said.

Wednesday's audience was a mix of Edwards' supporters, supporters of other candidates and those who were undecided, such as Barbara McGee.

McGee was interested in Edwards' positions on illegal immigration and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.

"I'm just checking this out to see if I'll vote for him," she said.

USCL student Kara Bernard, who's leaning toward Obama, was impressed by how Edwards performed in Monday's debate. She believes he rose above the barbs being exchanged by Clinton and Obama and stuck to the issues. If Edwards said something that piqued her interest regarding health-care coverage, she might change her mind and vote for him.

Robert Summers said he has no doubt that he'll vote for Edwards.

"He's my kind of man," he said. "He stands up for working people."

Though retired, Summers said he cares about the local unemployment situation with the loss of Springs Global manufacturing jobs and friends who have been negatively affected by it.

Eddie Moore, a Heath Springs Town Council member, said Edwards seems to have a good grasp of what people in this part of South Carolina are facing.

"He definitely understands what's going on in this part of South Carolina, since he is from here and his father worked in a mill," Moore said. "He speaks our language."

Moore said he was disappointed that the other Democratic candidates didn't make it to Lancaster County this primary season.

Contact Johnathan Ryan at 416-8416 jryan@thelancasternews.com

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