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Edwards urges 'transformational change' at campaign stop

Rob Christensen
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards came to the birthplace of the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement Tuesday and urged a new generation of college students to help bring about "a transformational change" in America.

Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, called for universal health care insurance, a new effort to reduce poverty, increased efforts to address global warning and a foreign policy that recognizes the country's "better angels."

"Thank goodness we had men and women in North Carolina and right here in Greensboro who walked into a lunch counter and sat down and stood up for civil rights," Edwards told about 300 people at Bennett College. "We need that kind of strength and courage again."

This was a rare campaign appearance in North Carolina for Edwards, who has been spending most of his time raising money in major metropolitan areas - he was in New York on Monday - or in key primary or caucus states like Iowa, where he stumped over the weekend.

His appearance at the historically black women's school coincided with a fundraiser at the home of Greensboro businessman Randall Kaplan, a longtime Democratic fundraiser.

Edwards has struggled in recent months to get national attention, with much of the buzz in Democratic circles surrounding New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Edwards' challenge was apparent among those in the Bennett crowd who said they felt tugged in different directions.

Gayland Oliver, 41, a small business owner in Greensboro, said he backed Edwards in his 2004 presidential run and may do so again. But as an African-American, Oliver said, he was intrigued by Obama's candidacy.

"I'm an African-American and a North Carolinian," Oliver said. "I guess I want to wait and see who emerges as a strong candidate."

He said appreciated Edwards' position on global warning but was worried that Edwards' support for a higher minimum wage would hurt small business people like himself.

Rita-Rae Conley, an 18-year-old Bennett student from Durham, N.C., said she is torn between Edwards and Clinton.

"I'd love to see a woman president," said Conley, who called Edwards "a very strong, patient, understanding man" and added that she likes his emphasis on fighting poverty and raising the minimum wage.

As for a black president, Conley said, "America is not ready for it."

Edwards announced Tuesday that his campaign would attempt to be "carbon neutral" as a way of combating global warming. That means his campaign will try to conserve energy, use recycled paper and take other similar steps, he said.

The North Carolinian also called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because of reports of the firing of federal prosecutors and because Edwards said Gonzales abused his investigative authority under the Patriot Act.

The North Carolina Republican Party didn't roll out the welcome mat for Edwards.

"John Edwards can pretend to have North Carolina values, but his reliable support for higher taxes, his flip-flopping on Iraq and his liberal rhetoric are completely out of touch with the conservative values in our state," Linda Daves, the state GOP chairwoman, said in a prepared statement. "It must not be easy for Edwards to espouse his phony `man of the people' political rhetoric while enjoying the comforts of his multimillion-dollar mansion."


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