PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards met friend and foe alike during the second of 12 scheduled town hall style meetings his campaign has planned for New Hampshire voters this summer.
More than 200 people attended the two-hour event Tuesday night, which the North Carolina senator said he hopes will give voters a fuller picture of who he is.
“There are no limits to what you can ask me here tonight,” Edwards said. “Anything goes. If you’re upset about something I’ve said or done, or if you want me to clarify a position, now is your chance,” he said.
The crowd for the most part was enthusiastic and applauded frequently, although many began to trickle away as the sunlight faded and mosquitoes swarmed in at Prescott Park.
Applause was noticeably absent when Edwards defended his support for the war in Iraq.
He scarcely missed a chance during the evening to note that his father was a lifelong mill worker, and that despite his success as a lawyer, he knew what ordinary peoples’ lives were like.
Edwards painted the his potential adversary, President Bush as a man out of touch with the everyday struggles of most people.
“I hope we still live in a country where we can believe the son of a mill worker can beat the son of a president,” he said.
Edwards did not mention any of the other eight contenders for the Democratic nomination by name, but outlined differences on health care, prescription drug prices, and the war in Iraq.
Edwards twice mentioned his visit to the recent convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was ignored by some Democratic presidential contenders and whose absence drew criticism from the NAACP.
After the meeting many said they were impressed with Edwards, but were not ready to throw their support his way quite yet.
“Edwards was very well spoken, and I like what he had to say,” said Carl Richardson of Hampton Falls. “But I’m leaning towards (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry, mostly because I disagree with him strongly on the Iraq issue.”
The event also drew small but vocal protests. Conservative social security reform advocates, Citizens for a Sound Economy, had a man in a shark suit wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, “End Lawsuit Abuse,” mingling with the crowd.
Florida Democrat Bob Kunst, head of The Oral Majority, drove to Portsmouth from Miami Beach. He carried a sign that read “Edwards is a Phony” and ridiculed the candidate for failing to back election reform.
But for 16-year-old Danielle Dube of Exeter the chance to see a candidate for the nation’s highest office was thrill enough.
“I’m not old enough to vote, but when I went up to Senator. Edwards, he still took the time to answer my question,” she said. “It was really, really cool.” The question? “I wanted to know if he was going to do something about the enormous problem of teen drug abuse,” she said.
“Previous administrations have ignored it. I have three younger sisters and I want them to grow up in a better world than the one I did,” she said.