EASLEY, S.C. – Presidential candidate John Edwards visited his small town birthplace Monday to announce a plan to help rural economies and tout himself as a Southern Democrat with Dixie appeal.
Edwards added the six-page Rural Recovery Act to his growing list of policy proposals, which also include a withdrawal of forces from Iraq, universal health care and a repeal of some of President Bush's tax cuts to pay for it.
Some of his positions put him to the left of southern conservative voters, so Edwards was trying to woo them by focusing on his common roots and promising to make rural America a priority.
He began the day at the small pink house in Seneca, S.C., where he lived the first months of his life, then campaigned with the breakfast crowd at Jimmy's Family Restaurant in nearby Easley. He was scheduled to travel to Nashville, Tenn., for a lunchtime press conference followed by a bluegrass concert headlined by Del McCoury and Rodney Crowell at the Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974.
Edwards is trying to boost his image of electability in the general election campaign. The last three Democratic presidents have been from the South and Edwards is the only southern Democrat in the 2008 race.
But he's also looking to pick up votes in the rural states that will play an important role in the Democratic primary. States that plan to hold elections on the super primary day of Feb. 5, 2008, include Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
His rural recovery tour included a stop Sunday night in southwest New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, and will lead to an upcoming weekend tour across Iowa, which holds the first nominating caucus. He also planned a rally in Roanoke, Va., Thursday, headlined by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and Ben Jones, who played Cooter in the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Edwards' rural recovery plan is rooted in his campaign platform of addressing economic inequalities.
It includes $1 billion in spending on initiatives like increased investment in rural small businesses, education, health care and resources to fight methamphetamine abuse. It also offers an overall commitment to make sure rural communities are first in line for health care, energy and anti-poverty resources.
"Too often, the problems of rural America are forgotten by politicians living and working in far-off capital cities," Edwards' plan began. "As a native of a small rural town, John Edwards knows that America cannot turn its back on rural areas."
Edwards won the early South Carolina primary four years ago, in part by highlighting his roots in the state. Although he was born in Seneca, he was raised in Robbins, N.C., and served North Carolina in the Senate before becoming John Kerry's running mate in the 2004 election.
Kerry sent Edwards to campaign across the South in 2004, but President Bush swept the region.
"The Democrats have lost over the past several decades so much support among white Southern voters that it becomes difficult to make majorities," said Earl Black, co-author of a new book called "Divided America" that examines regional voting differences. He said the South has shifted from a Democratic to a Republican majority as people have moved out of poor rural areas and into suburbia.
"They have conservative social views, but they also have conservative economic views," Black said. "So the Republicans are giving them what they want on both dimensions."