HUBER HEIGHTS, Ohio - Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards continued to jab President Bush over Iraq yesterday, but said he looks forward to talking about issues closer to home in his own Ohio debate next week.
"The focus of the debate [Thursday] night was what George Bush wanted the focus to be," the North Carolina senator told an enthusiastic crowd of about 800 in the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights.
"He got it," he said. "He thought he was on his own ground, that he was on his territory. What he didn't expect was that the next commander-in-chief was going to walk onto that stage with him."
Mr. Edwards will square off Tuesday at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland against Vice President Dick Cheney in the sole debate for the lower halves of the tickets.
"Come this Tuesday, the following Friday, and finally the third presidential debate, we're not only going to be talking about foreign policy and national security, we're going to be talking about what's happening here at home: jobs, health care, things that affect your everyday lives," he said.
Al Gore narrowly carried Montgomery County in 2000 over Mr. Bush by a margin of 114,597 to 109,792. Unemployment in the county is much closer to Ohio's average of 6.3 percent than to the national average of 5.4 percent.
But the county is also home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney have invested a lot of time here in recent months. Mr. Cheney did not make campaign appearances yesterday.
"Ohio has more reasons than virtually anybody in America to replace this president," Mr. Edwards said during the town hall meeting set in an old bowling alley converted into a community center.
"You've got 4 percent of the country's population," he said. "You account for 25 percent of the jobs that have been lost."
He pushed Sen. John Kerry's proposals to reward two years of public service with four years of college tuition, provide tax credits for families for child care and small businesses for creating jobs, and provide health insurance for all Americans rivaling what taxpayers now provide for U.S. senators.
Emery Phipps, 28, spent nine years in the Marines and now chairs the Young Republicans at Dayton's St. Clair Community College, where he's studying political science.
"[Mr. Kerry] has changed his position on Iraq about five different times now," he said as he protested outside the Edwards event.
"He said [Thursday] night he's been consistent," he said. "I like the President's line that the only thing that's been consistent is his inconsistency.
"My buddies in Iraq found out I'm working on the Bush campaign. They said, 'Make sure Kerry doesn't get elected.' They feel he's not going to do the best for them."
Yesterday's town hall event ended a two-day Edwards tour of Ohio that started Wednesday night in Columbus. He watched the first presidential debate in Ohio and then led a rally to declare Mr. Kerry's victory.
Today, the focus will shift to Mr. Bush, who will talk to home builders in Columbus and campaign in Mansfield and Cuyahoga Falls. Mr. Kerry will return tomorrow to hold a town hall meeting in Youngstown.
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