ROCHESTER, N.H. – Voters didn't mind that Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards was running a bit late Sunday -- it gave them time to scrutinize the 77-page policy booklet printed by his campaign.
Though many attendees at the town hall meeting came prepared with questions, others told the former North Carolina senator they were inspired by reading the booklet he has been distributing to voters in New Hampshire and Iowa.
In it, he outlines his vision in four areas: standing up for working families, ending the war in Iraq, building a better future for children and ensuring opportunity for all. But one voter suggested a fifth category: balancing the federal budget.
"We had good time to read your pamphlet while you were flying in. I love everything, but it seems to me that there is a Roman numeral five that might be missing," the woman said. "I worry that with you as the candidate, the other side would paint you as a typical way-out on the left, tax-and-spend liberal."
Edwards said any Democratic nominee is likely to face that kind of criticism but said his universal health care, education and other initiatives would help working families, which in turn would spur economic growth and eventually allow for national debt reduction.
"We need to have shared prosperity again," he said. "If we do that, we get rid of these structural problems in our economy and the economy will grow in the way it has in the past."
In Rochester and again at another town hall meeting in Meredith, Edwards opened by outlining his new plan to help people afford their high heating oil bills and ensure affordable prices in the future.
Noting that home heating oil prices in New Hampshire have surpassed $3 a gallon, Edwards called on Congress to release some of the nation's home heating oil and crude oil reserves and to fully fund the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Earlier this month, President Bush vetoed a Democratic health and education spending bill that included $2.4 billion for heating subsidies for the poor, $480 million more than Bush requested.
"It's no wonder people are worried and concerned and in some cases having to choose between paying their rent, paying for food or paying to keep their place warm," Edwards said.
He also said he would double the budget of a program that helps people weatherize their homes to $500 million a year and would help states and nonprofit groups administer low- or no-interest emergency loans to people struggling to pay their heating bills.
Upgrading home furnaces, ducts, windows and insulation can cut energy bills by about 30 percent, he said, but the program reaches only about 100,000 of the 28 million homes that could be eligible.
He also proposes helping states and nonprofit groups administer low- or no-interest emergency loans to people struggling to pay their heating bills.
His plan for longer-term relief from high home heating prices involves asking the Justice Department to investigate the massive mergers of oil companies in recent decades and modernizing antitrust laws to target oil and gas companies that take unilateral action to withhold supplies in order to raise prices. Under current law, companies can't be charged for those actions unless they are working with other companies, Edwards said.
Edwards also proposes repealing tax breaks for the oil industry and reinvesting the savings in renewable energy projects.