An exuberant John Edwards brought his presidential campaign back to Oregon on Tuesday, drawing rousing receptions from union members and a business group and taking heart from a weekend straw poll among state Democratic activists.
Edwards finished second in the poll at a party gathering last weekend, with 47 votes, two votes behind Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton was third with 36, but on Tuesday Edwards acknowledged her leads in polls nationally.
"One of the reasons I'm here is that we have a great deal of support in Oregon," Edwards said. "I feel very good about doing well in Oregon."
The labor activists in Seaside and the Oregon Business Association in Portland interrupted Edwards with applause several times as he promised an aggressive agenda, as president, to extend health coverage to every American. He vowed a quick end to the "mess" in Iraq.
Oregon's May presidential is one of the last, and the nominating races likely will be all but over.
Edwards spoke to about 400 union members at the annual Oregon AFL-CIO convention. He is a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and was Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry's running mate in the 2004 presidential election.
In an evening speech to the business group he dwelt less on his union background but was applauded when he said it should be easier for American workers to organize, that the national minimum wage should increase and that more tax credits should be available for low-income Americans.
He said poverty could be lessened by a "national, not a state, predatory payday lending law."
But he said eliminating poverty, attacking global warming problems and increasing educational opportunities would require sacrifice from all Americans.
He recalled President Kennedy's challenge of "Ask not what your country can do for you..."
"We are in that place again," he said.
He hit hardest on health care, saying health care costs cause half of the nation's bankruptcies. "You are more likely to go into bankruptcy in America today than to get a divorce," Edwards said.
"I want to say to Congress and to members of my administration 'If you don't pass universal health care by July of this year (2009) ... then we're going to make sure you lose your health care.' "
He told the AFL-CIO that Clinton has indicated she wants to sit down and talk with drug companies, insurers and medical interests about expanding health care coverage, but he said there should be no compromises.
"In my America, every person is worthy of health coverage," he said.
Tuesday night he said most of what America needs to lift people out of poverty is work-centered.
He called for a focus "on making work pay. And I do believe that anybody in America that is capable of working should be working."
He said the war on poverty of the 1960s cut the poverty rate almost in half but created a cycle of dependence.
On the Iraq war, he said it was up to Congress to "show some backbone" and bring home the troops.
"They were put in office in 2006 because America was demanding that this war be ended," he told the union activists.
If President Bush vetoes funding measures that set deadlines for withdrawal, he said, Congress "should do it over and over."
The time also has come to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the former senator told the crowd.
"Beyond that, no more secret prisons; no more illegal spying on Americans; no more torture. That is not America," Edwards said.
Edwards drew some of the loudest applause n Seaside when he recalled his blue-collar upbringing by two mill-worker parents, spending much of his boyhood in a two-room mill-worker home.
"I grew up in a family where my mother and father had health care only because of the union. What people forget is that the organized labor movement built the middle class in America," he said.
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said that while the state labor federation doesn't plan to make an endorsement, Edwards is highly popular among the state's union activists.
"We love him," Chamberlain said. "He understands what it takes for working people to earn a living."
Edwards brings campaign to Oregon