NEW ORLEANS – John Edwards (search) brought his "front porch tour" to Louisiana on Thursday, and he made a promise: he'll be back.
The Democratic vice presidential candidate spoke to a crowd of about 150 supporters and displayed some familiarity with the state, making passing reference to recently toughened academic standards in Louisiana public schools. Speaking at a union hall in New Orleans (search), a city with high crime and incarceration rates, he drew a big cheer by saying the country needs a better system of easing former inmates back into society.
Edwards said he would return for more campaign stops, as would running mate Sen. John Kerry and the candidates' wives.
"We want to make sure that people here know what our vision is, for Louisiana and for the country," Edwards said.
President Bush (search) won Louisiana by 6 percentage points in 2000, but the state is one of the few in the Deep South where analysts say the Democrats have a chance to win. Edwards said he had faith that Louisiana's Democratic Party organizers will get their voters to the polls, citing U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's (search) 2002 victory over an opponent who received high profile support from national Republican officials.
"I think you know what you're doing down here," Edwards said.
Edwards spent about four hours in the city, first meeting with residents on their porch in Gentilly, a mainly middle class neighborhood. Party organizers had picked the home of Donald and Charmaine Carrere for the event while driving around the neighborhood looking for a porch that fitted the occasion, according to a spokeswoman.
The Carreres said Edwards workers contacted them on Monday, then visited to make sure the porch would be appropriate. Edwards came over Thursday, with news photographers and television cameramen in tow, and chatted with the couple and their neighbors for about an hour, sipping bottled water on a hot, muggy afternoon.
The meeting was part of Kerry and Edwards' "front porch tour": campaign stops and photo opportunities around the country where the candidates meet with middle-class Americans on their porches.
The Carreres said they had been nervous about meeting the politician, but Edwards quickly put them at ease.
"He's very charismatic, and he seems genuine," Charmaine Carrere said. "He's not afraid to look you in the eye and speak his piece."
Donald Carrere, a BellSouth manager, told Edwards about his concerns over having enough money to help put his son through college. He said he was impressed by Edwards' plan to give parents a tax credit of up to $4,000 per year to go toward tuition.
"He was great. I can't say it any other way," said Carrere, a lifelong Democrat.
Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, then held a meeting with about 150 invited supporters in a nearby union hall. He answered questions on health care costs, public schools, homeland security, social security, and repeatedly said that his travels around the country have proven to him that many Americans feel their finances are on shaky ground.
"People are uncertain. They are worried about tomorrow. They are worried something is going to go wrong," he said.
Edwards also took a few swipes at the Bush administration, saying the Iraq war effort lacked allied support and that the White House hadn't done long-term planning for the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
At one point, Edwards picked a questionable topic to use in poking fun at Bush. Edwards accused the president of avoiding average Americans, instead organizing "ticketed events, you know, where they control who comes in."
In contrast, Edwards said he and Kerry "know what's going on out there in the real world, we've been out there listening to people on Main Street, in town hall meetings just like this."
In fact, Edwards' event on Thursday was closed to the public. The crowd had been hand-picked by campaign workers.