FARGO, N.D. – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) continued courting older voters Saturday, telling a crowd here that he and running mate John Kerry (search) would loosen restrictions on reimporting prescription medicine and work to drive down drug prices.
Edwards is the first member of a major party's presidential ticket to campaign in North Dakota, a state with one of the nation's highest proportions of elderly residents. Figures from the 2000 Census show that North Dakota had the highest percentage of residents age 85 and older.
The North Carolina senator told a crowd estimated by campaign officials at 2,800 that he and Kerry would "stand up to these drug companies and stand up for the American people."
Edwards said a Kerry administration also would allow the government to negotiate lower prices from drug companies for prescription programs. He also called for more realistic advertisements for drugs, saying they do not include information on generic equivalents.
"The American people need to know when there's a cheaper, equally good alternative," Edwards said.
President Bush (search) has opposed legalizing drug imports based on safety concerns. Bush campaign spokesman Brian Jones said Saturday that Kerry and Edwards are misleading voters because both senators opposed a prescription drug benefit for Medicare.
"President Bush, with his prescription drug benefit plan, has provided the biggest improvement in senior health care since Medicare was established," Jones said.
Edwards also praised Kerry's record in the military and government, saying his running mate has been dedicated to serving the United States since his days in Vietnam.
"Where I come from, where you come from, a man who loves his country enough to volunteer to serve ... that's someone who represents real American values," he said.
Edwards' stop at North Dakota State University's Churchill Field was a salve for Democrats after the party's presidential ticket bypassed the state during the 2000 election. The rally also gave other Democrats running for office a chance to appeal to voters.
Edwards, who shed his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves after about five minutes in the warm afternoon sun, praised Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who invited him to North Dakota. Dorgan and Pomeroy, who introduced Edwards, are running for re-election this year.
"The truth is, I'm not very good at saying 'no' to those guys, and John Kerry and I are not going to be very good at saying 'no' to them when John Kerry's the next president," Edwards said.
Joe Satrom, the Democratic candidate for governor, also asked for voter support at the Edwards rally. Satrom said North Dakotans have told him they are unsatisfied with the way Gov. John Hoeven's administration is handling wildlife management.
"I'm listening to hunters who complain that politics is driving the management of wildlife in this state, rather than good science," Satrom said.
Hoeven campaign spokesman Don Larson said the Republican governor has worked to vastly increase the amount of land available to sportsmen.
"Gov. Hoeven has worked very hard to strike a balance between all involved in hunting. He's worked with the professionals at the Game and Fish Department to do that," Larson said.
Although they have three Democrats serving the state on Capitol Hill, North Dakota voters have not favored a presidential candidate from the party since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. President Bush won the state's three electoral votes in 2000 with 61 percent of the popular vote.
John Trandem of Fargo and Eric Rinerson of Harwood came to the Edwards rally sporting clothing with Hoeven's logo.
"(Edwards) had a lot of ideas but no answers about how to get there," Rinerson said.
Even though Edwards and Kerry would have to score a striking victory to claim the state in November, Satrom said Edwards' presence is a boon for the party's candidates in North Dakota.
Satrom also said Edwards' visit shows the Democrats are not writing off Republican strongholds.
"I think it tells the public a lot about their willingness to challenge every race," he said.
The rally attracted some Minnesotans, who have seen several recent visits to their state by candidates in both parties.
Jodi Maurer-Knudson, a Fargo native and Kerry supporter now living in Coon Rapids, Minn., said she was impressed with Edwards' willingness to stop in North Dakota.
"It's a historic moment. It's frightening to me how important this election is," she said.
Edwards and Kerry both visited North Dakota earlier in the campaign season, before they shared the Democratic presidential ticket.
Edwards stopped by the state after abandoning his own presidential bid, delivering a speech at the state Democratic convention in April. Kerry held a campaign event just before the state's presidential preference caucuses in February and watched the Super Bowl in a Fargo sports bar. He won the state Democratic caucus with 51 percent of the vote.