WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards (search), digging in to win last-minute support in a state where polls show he has the best shot at victory, leveled pointed criticism Monday at rival John Kerry (search) for accepting lobbyist contributions and supporting trade-opening deals.
Edwards emphasized his local ties as he traveled the state by bus — he was born in South Carolina and represents North Carolina in the Senate — and criticized trade agreements he claims have cost American jobs.
He ended up in the town where he was born, addressing a rally at a civic center on a cold, rainy night.
"It's a great honor for me to be back in my birthplace," said Edwards, who was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, their three children and his parents.
Only about 100 people showed up for the rally in this solidly Republican western part of the state.
Edwards, his voice hoarse and battling a head cold, canceled a planned early Tuesday morning visit to a Greenville polling place. He was to await election returns in Columbia before heading to Memphis, Tenn., late Tuesday.
In his appearance here, and at stops in Charleston, Denmark and Columbia, Edwards pledged to bring new jobs to South Carolina if elected president.
"Other candidates have talked about this issue, I have lived it," Edwards told students at the College of Charleston, pointing to his childhood as the son of a mill worker whose mill closed.
His comments were an attempt to draw a distinction with Kerry.
Meeting with reporters outside the bus in Charleston, Edwards was more pointed about Kerry.
"Senator Kerry and I have very different positions on the issue of trade," he told reporters in Charleston. "If we want real change in Washington, we need someone who hasn't been there for 15-20 years."
"I don't take contributions from lobbyists, and he obviously does," said Edwards, who has proposed a ban on lobbyist contributions and has said he does not accept them. His campaign says checks from lobbyists are returned.
But Edwards, in 2002, did accept one donation from a lobbying firm and also has collected more than $80,000 from people who aren't formally registered as lobbyists but work for some of Washington's powerhouse firms, according to documents compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington watchdog group.
His comments were an attempt to draw a distinction with Kerry, the front-runner for the nomination. A day before the primary, he portrayed the South Carolina contest Tuesday as a "head-to-head" race between himself and Kerry.
Of the seven states voting on Tuesday, polls show Edwards leading Kerry only in South Carolina. A win here would allow Edwards to advance to what he sees as fertile ground in his efforts to catch up to Kerry — Democratic primaries on Feb. 10 in Virginia and Tennessee.
Edwards does not usually mention Kerry or other opponents by name. He gained support in Iowa and New Hampshire for running a positive campaign, but Monday's comments seemed to chart a new direction.
Edwards was openly courting the votes of blacks, who could make up as much as 50 percent of those voting on Tuesday.
Speaking to a predominantly black audience here at Voorhees College, Edwards said he saw the "ugliest side of segregation and discrimination" while growing up in the region in the 1950s and 60s.
"I think all of us in the South have an enormous responsibility to lead and not follow" on civil rights issues, he said.
In contrasting his record with Kerry's, Edwards has called attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade pacts that Kerry supported and that Edwards contends played a major role in U.S. job losses.
Edwards was not in the Senate when NAFTA passed in 1993, but has said he would have voted against it.