Edwards campaigns at union hall in Missouri

Sunday, January 20, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- John Edwards told a packed union hall here that he is the strongest supporter for organized labor among the Democratic presidential candidates.

With Missouri's primary vote day just two weeks away, the North Carolina senator stopped here Saturday as part of a national campaign tour addressing the economic concerns of middle class voters. Hillary Clinton was slated to speak at a public school Saturday night in suburban St. Louis.

Edwards told a crowd of hundreds that he was a "fighter" who could battle lobbyists and corporations more effectively than either Clinton or Barack Obama. Drawing on his upbringing in a mill town and his decades suing corporations, Edwards said he wanted to constrain corporate power if elected president.

"One thing I learned from those 20 years [as a trial attorney] is that you can't nice these people to death," Edwards said. "All the sweet words and great speeches won't change a thing."

Edwards laid out an economic agenda that would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, repeal tax cuts signed by President Bush and strengthen the right for workers to join a union. He received booming applause when he criticized free trade deals that he blamed for moving U.S. jobs elsewhere and reducing wages and benefits of all workers.

"NAFTA, CAFTA -- all these trade deals exist only for the purpose of destroying jobs and padding corporate profits," he said.

Edwards also criticized Clinton and Obama -- his chief opponents for the presidential nomination -- for disputing whether it was more important to be a hands-on manager or an inspirational figure.

"My view is that neither of those things is going to change Washington," he said. "We need a fighter."

Clinton's campaign touted an endorsement by The Kansas City Star, which called her "a woman of obvious intelligence with a strong commitment to reform on health care, taxes, energy, immigration, education and global warming."

In its editorial Saturday, The Star endorsed John McCain on the Republican side, saying the Arizona senator "has been a tireless advocate of campaign finance reform and better ethics in government."

The Star said that Clinton and McCain "each offer those essential qualities as well as extensive experience and proven responsibility in government."

Obama won the endorsement last week of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who said she would campaign for him in the weeks ahead.

Missouri will join more than 20 other states when residents head to the polls Feb. 5 to vote in the primaries.

Many attendees at Edwards' rally Saturday morning said they were still undecided and would be happy with any of the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Edwards won over at least one voter in St. Louis. Arthur Culbert said he was putting an Edwards sign in his lawn Saturday after initially supporting Obama. Culbert said it was Edwards' strong stance against corporations that finally won him over.

"I actually think the future of the country is about getting the big middle class re-engaged," Culbert said after the rally.

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