CLINTON, Tenn. – Elizabeth Edwards (search), wife of presumed Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search), told members of a national children's support organization Sunday night that "help is on the way" in January.
Edwards made the anticipated Democratic presidential ticket's first foray into Tennessee since John Kerry (search) picked her husband as his running mate two weeks ago.
The North Carolina senator's wife helped dedicate a chapel designed by Vietnam Memorial artist Maya Lin at the former farm of "Roots" author Alex Haley (search), now a retreat owned by the Children's Defense Fund (search).
Edwards continued her husband's theme of "two Americas" between rich and poor Sunday, telling about 700 children's advocates that "there is no place where this disparity is more immoral than when we are talking about our nation's children.
"John and I started last January crisscrossing this country talking about two Americas. I hope that it will end next January when we have leadership who really has the commitment to making certain that we have one America."
The Kerry-Edwards campaign said this was Elizabeth Edwards' first solo appearance of the campaign.
The dedication capped a two-day symposium on "Building the 21st Century Movement for Children." Participants included journalist Bill Moyers; Ted Shaw, president of the NAACP legal defense fund; former New York Mayor David Dinkins, and Barnes & Noble chairman and CDF patron Len Riggio.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, once a CDF staff attorney, made a similar appearance before the national advocacy group for the poor, disabled and minority children at the same location in 1999 when she was first lady.
At the time the farm's address was still Norris, as Haley had known it before he died in 1992. The CDF changed it to Clinton, another Anderson County town, after it bought the farm in 1994.
Edwards went through a litany of problems she said America's children face. The number of children in poverty has increased by 400,000 during President Bush's time in office, she said.
She also talked about the need to increase the minimum wage, to provide health care for 12 million children without it, to reduce the dropout rate and provide more after-school programs.
Edwards said "it's no secret that the surplus we once enjoyed no longer exists."
But she said progress would have to come in small steps.
"We want to do it in one fell swoop and I'm not going to tell you that it can happen," Edwards said. "But we have to know that we have leadership who believes in taking that first step, them someday we will take that last step."
Edwards' appearance follows first lady Laura Bush's trip last week with Education Secretary Rod Paige to Nashville to tout the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha's Ivy Reading AKAdemy literacy program. The program receives federal funding and is part of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative.
Edwards, who has worked to create two after-school programs in North Carolina, praised the work of the Children's Defense Fund.
"I am here to exhort you to continue your work with the belief that help is on the way," she said.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, exhorted the crowd to vote for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in November.
"Anybody that says they care about children and they don't vote, they're not telling the truth," Edelman said. "This is the most important election in the 21st century. It is going to set the tone, define our nation, so I hope everyone will pay attention and will wake up and will vote for children who cannot vote for themselves."
Bush carried Tennessee over favorite son Al Gore in 2000, and is expected to win the state again this year. He has returned to the state frequently, three times this year alone. Last week he was in nearby Oak Ridge to tout progress in the war on terrorism.