Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards (search) used a couple of Bush-Cheney sign-waving college students to his advantage Friday.

"Guys, hold those signs up in the back if you don't mind," Edwards said after snaking his way through the packed ballroom at Virginia Tech University (search). The crowd booed as the students obliged, but then broke out in cheers when Edwards claimed: "That's who's leaving the White House come November!"

Edwards thanked the audience, made up mostly of college students, for showing up on a wintery day.

"I know how hard it was for me to get here, so I know how hard it was for you to get here," Edwards said, referring to the ice-covered roads and freezing rain.

The Blacksburg stop was the North Carolina senator's first on Friday as he traveled on a bus tour of Virginia. He planned an event in Wytheville, before flying to Tennessee for appearances in Bristol and Knoxville.

Beau Correll, president of Virginia Tech's college Republican group, and his buddies held up the signs to protest Edwards' criticism of trade-opening pacts despite his vote for the China trade deal.

"He's talking out of two sides of his mouth on this," said Correll, 21, of Winchester, Va.

Edwards says he opposes unfair trade agreements that he claims eliminate U.S. working-class jobs. He took note of his younger audience in his usual pitch, saying, "Twenty years ago — some of you may remember this — 20 years ago we talked about buy American. Well, how about hiring American."

Boosted by a win in South Carolina, Edwards is bypassing Michigan, Washington state and Maine, which hold contests this weekend, in favor of focusing his efforts on the next pair of primaries, Virginia and Tennessee, on Tuesday and Wisconsin Feb. 17.