FLORENCE, S.C. – Democratic White House hopeful John Edwards brought his rural agenda back to small-town South Carolina on Wednesday, touting plans to increase employment and education and also to expand U.S. aid to poor people around the world.
Joined by actor Danny Glover, Edwards spoke to a crowd of more than 200 who packed a restaurant in his native state, which has served as the starting point of a personal narrative that took him from small town boy to successful trial lawyer to senator from North Carolina.
"We have work to do — important work to do," Edwards told the crowd in this city of about 31,000.
Later in the day, he and Glover planned to visit Bishopville, a town of less than 4,000.
In April, Edwards traveled to his small town birthplace of Seneca — about 220 miles west of here — to unveil a plan to help rural economies that 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.
On Wednesday, Edwards said the nation's need to wean itself off foreign oil could create 1 million jobs and help rural economies with the development of alternative power such as biofuels and wind turbines.
"We can bring in jobs to replace jobs that have been lost," he said.
He also called for a ban on new coal-fired power plants when asked about plans by a South Carolina state-run utility to build a new plant in Florence County. Critics have said the facility's carbon dioxide emissions will further add to global warming.
"Until and if we have true carbon-capture technology available, then we should ban the building of any more of these coal-fired plants," Edwards said.
Other help for people in rural areas could come from the government lowering the cost of college by making direct loans to families, and from improving health care by widening broadband access so that doctors and patients could better communicate with major medical centers.
Edwards also said that $5 billion should be spent to better educate children around the world and improve their living conditions through economic development and eliminating disease. He said he would create a cabinet-level position to help that agenda, and would call for 10,000 people to further those efforts across the globe.
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.
Edwards also has played on his mill town upbringing this time around, but has felt a backlash for the wealthy life he now has as a successful trial lawyer with a huge home and expensive haircuts.
"I will compete in every part of the state of South Carolina," Edwards said Wednesday.
Glover said Edwards understands the needs of the working poor and that the campaign is "telling their story."
"This is a campaign about real democracy," Glover said. "This is what this campaign is about, listening to those stories."
Edwards, he said, "was bred and came up on these stories."