"We think jobs and health care are the most important things government has to take care of," Edwards said Tuesday.
The North Carolina senator also challenged President Bush's contention that the economy was improving, arguing that the Republican "miscalculated on the economy" with policies that favored the wealthy while ignoring the middle class.
It was a jab at Bush's remarks in recent days that his administration "miscalculated" how fiercely insurgents would fight after the initial "catastrophic success" of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Edwards is filling in for Kerry, who is keeping a low profile this week during the Republican National Convention.
The North Carolina senator was campaigning in a state whose recovery from the recession has been sluggish. There, Edwards visited with Dickie Todd, who worked in coal mines for 43 years before retiring in 2000. Since then, Todd has had open heart surgery and is being treated for cancer but lost his health insurance when his carrier filed for bankruptcy.
Edwards said a Kerry administration would create a program under which the government would pay the costs of catastrophic care by getting rid of "George Bush's tax cuts for rich people" and by closing "corporate tax loopholes."
West Virginia is considered one of the most competitive states in the presidential race. Bush narrowly won the state and its five electoral votes by 6 percentage points in 2000 although it has been historically Democratic. Later Tuesday, Edwards headed to Pennsylvania, another crucial swing state.
Mary Diamond, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, faulted Edwards for not addressing a major problem in the state — affordable malpractice insurance for doctors.
"John Edwards built a career as a trial lawyer and today he did not address one of the top concern of West Virginians, which is how to keep a quality doctor here," Diamond said.