Published January 29, 2004
TULSA, Okla. – Four Democratic presidential candidates made a swing through Oklahoma on Wednesday, hoping to woo working class voters in this state before next week's primary.
The Sooner State is already familiar territory for U.S. Sen. John Edwards (search), who touted his 13 appearances in Oklahoma -- the most of any presidential candidate -- at a rally at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Tulsa's historically black neighborhood of Greenwood.
"I will say one thing," Edwards told the roughly 400 supporters in attendance. "I will not forget about Oklahoma after Feb. 3."
The North Carolina senator, who has campaigned in Oklahoma on his rural, poor upbringing, declared that he was the Democrat with the best chance to beat President Bush in the November general election.
"The South is not George Bush's backyard," Edwards said. "The South is my backyard."
Wesley Clark, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) also stumped in Oklahoma, needing a win here after trailing U.S. Sen. John Kerry (search) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) in the New Hampshire.
For Clark, it was a return to friendly territory after finishing third behind John Kerry and Howard Dean in New Hampshire or, as he put it, "first among non-new Englanders."
"I can't tell you how glad I am to be back in my neighborhood," Clark, who grew up in Arkansas, told a crowd at Oklahoma State University's Tulsa campus.
Supporters chanted "Go Clark Go!" and cheered wildly when he proclaimed, "I'm not a professional politician." Many in the crowd were veterans who stood to be recognized at the request of the retired Army general and NATO supreme allied commander.
Clark emphasized his plans to raise the minimum wage, eliminate taxes for families of four earning less than $50,000 and cut taxes for families making under $100,000.
Long bypassed by the road to the White House, Oklahoma and its earlier primary date have drawn attention from all the major Democratic candidates except Kerry.
Like other candidates, Clark also made stops Wednesday in some of the six other states holding contests next Tuesday.
As he passed through Oklahoma, Edwards managed to secure endorsements from seven Oklahoma union officials who had previously supported Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), who dropped out of the race after a disappointing showing in Iowa.
Edwards and Clark both skipped a forum held by the National Health Policy Council in Edmond, which Lieberman and Kucinich attended.
Lieberman, who finished fifth in New Hampshire, bashed President Bush at the forum for what he said was inaction in improving the nation's health care policy
"Our government has failed to secure the right of the people to health care," Lieberman said. "And it is an outrage."
The former vice presidential candidate said Oklahoma -- as well as Delaware, Arizona and South Carolina -- are key to his effort to attract mainstream Democrats to his cause.
Kucinich, the Ohio representative who finished sixth in New Hampshire, plugged for his single-payer, universal health care program.
"I am the only Democratic candidate for president who has a detailed plan to replace the current system with national coverage, eliminating the HMOs and private insurers," Kucinich said.
He said his plan could largely be paid for by dollars spent in the current system, while providing comprehensive health coverage for all citizens.
Kucinich also emphasized that he was in the race to stay, predicting that no candidate will enter the national convention with 50 percent of the delegates needed for nomination.