FLINT, Mich. - Democrat John Edwards brought his populist message of hope to a crowd of several hundred who braved a persistent summer drizzle, telling them that "we can do better" to provide jobs and health care for Americans.
Promising to change the tax code to remove incentives for American companies to move jobs abroad, Mr. Edwards, the vice presidential candidate on the ticket headed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, also pledged help to pay for medical insurance.
"We know how badly the American people need a real health-care plan," he said. "We're going to make the same health care available to all of you that's available to your United States senator."
As Mr. Edwards was making his appearance here, Mr. Kerry was wrapping up a two-week, cross-country campaign swing in Portland, Ore.
Mr. Edwards, a senator from North Carolina who finished second in the party primary elections earlier this year, delivered a mostly positive message in Flint.
"We have such an extraordinary opportunity to build a country that we can all be proud of again," he said.
"I grew up in a small town in rural North Carolina. My father worked in a mill all his life, and I know something about what's going on in your town. I saw what happened in my town when the mill closed."
The candidate told the crowd at Mott Community College that education was the key to lifting people out of tough economic conditions and that the Kerry-Edwards plan would have the government pay for college educations for those who first perform volunteer work.
"We all know what's happening in America. We have hundreds of thousands of young people who want to go to college, they're qualified to go, but they're not going. Why aren't they going?" Mr. Edwards said.
"If you're willing to put two years into public service to your community, to your state, to your country, we're going to give you four years of college tuition."
Mr. Edwards, a trial lawyer before winning a seat in Washington, said he was the first in his family to attend college and that it changed his life.
Diane Sumner, a Flint resident who works at a local college, said she believes the Democratic ticket "won't be getting us into an unnecessary war."
Mr. Edwards, she added, "comes from hardworking people. I like that," in part because he understands the plight of many in the Flint area who have been affected by the loss of jobs in the auto industry.
Guy Blackburn, a retired consultant, said he has never been as active in a political campaign as he is in this one.
"This is the most important election of my lifetime because four more years of the direction we're going and I think the United States and the world will definitely be spiraling down, where it will be more likely there will be more wars and less likely that the average working person will have a fair shake."
Michigan Republicans gave Mr. Edwards a predictably chilly welcome.
"John Edwards knows a lot about talking - he did it for years as a trial lawyer," state GOP Chairman Betsy DeVos said.
Saying a Kerry presidency would result in the "killing [of] tens of thousands of automotive jobs through extreme environmental policies," Ms. DeVos said Mr. Edwards offers nothing but "refrains against the President and more platitudes to cover up the lack of an effective Kerry-Edwards agenda."
Polls show Mr. Kerry leading Mr. Bush by a small margin in Michigan. Democrat Al Gore won the state four years ago. President Bush campaigns in the state Monday, making an appearance in Traverse City.
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