Edwards rallies for Range support

by Tom Coombe

Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards mixed a traditional DFL message with sharp attacks against the Bush administration - as well as a direct appeal to those who like to hunt, fish and snowmobile - during a visit last week to the Iron Range.<BR><BR>Edwards charmed a partisan crowd of about 5,000 Tuesday night at the Hibbing Memorial Arena.<BR><BR>The number-two man on the Democratic ticket talked about creating jobs, lowering health care costs and raising the minimum wage. He also hammered President Bush and Vice President Cheney on both domestic and foreign policy, and inserted issues of regional interest into the stump speech.<BR><BR>Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, referred to his roots in a small mill town when addressing the issues facing the Range’s mining industry.<BR><BR>And with the Kerry-Edwards ticket facing Republican attack in rural areas over gun rights and recreation issues, Edwards attempted to soothe concerns.<BR><BR>“It is so important that we preserve our rural way of life, it’s part of who I am, part of what I’ll always be,” said Edwards. “That includes, making sure that your ability to hunt and fish is protected, making sure that you can go in the national parks and national forests and ride on a snowmobile.”<BR><BR>Warmed up by local DFLers such as State Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia and national figures including Eighth District Rep. Jim Oberstar and former Vice President Walter Mondale, the raucous crowd loved every minute of Edwards’ nearly half-hour appearance.<BR><BR>Edwards, who was introduced by Oberstar, paid homage to the state’s prominent Democrats.<BR><BR>“The wonderful thing about being in Minnesota is that being a Democrat still means something,” said Edwards. “It means Hubert Humphrey. It means Walter Mondale... And it still means Paul Wellstone.”<BR><BR>Edwards promised to fight for Minnesota mining jobs and knocked Bush for failing to respond to the outsourcing of American jobs overseas.<BR><BR>“You deserve a president who will fight for your job as hard as he will fight for his,” said Edwards.<BR><BR>According to Edwards, Bush and and Cheney have consistently sided against middle-class Americans on economic issues.<BR><BR>“Their friends are the ones making all the money,” said Edwards. “They can not stand with big drug companies, big oil companies, big insurance companies, the Saudi royal family, Halliburton, and still stand with the American people.”<BR><BR>On the economy, Edwards relentlessly criticized Bush policies from reduced tax rates for wealthy Americans to regulations that reduce requirements for overtime pay.<BR><BR>He said a Kerry administration would work to raise the minimum wage and lower gas prices.<BR><BR>“The cost of everything is going up,’’ Edwards said. “Is your paycheck going up?’’ <BR><BR>Edwards chided Bush as the only president since before World War II to preside over an economy in which a million jobs were lost, many going overseas.<BR><BR>“It’s time to outsource George Bush and Dick Cheney,” Edwards said as the audience roared in approval.<BR><BR>Edwards called for reform of the nation’s health care system - including policy that would allow Americans access to the same health care program provided to members of Congress and the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.<BR><BR>Edwards also addressed foreign affairs, most notably the war in Iraq.<BR><BR>“Iraq is a mess and it’s a mess because of two men, George Bush and Dick Cheney. Because of George Bush’s incompetence in building an alliance and making sure we had a plan to win the peace he created a haven for terrorists in Iraq that did not exist before the war.”<BR><BR>Edwards implored supporters to work feverishly for a Democratic victory next Tuesday.<BR><BR>“If you’re on your way home tonight and you see a single mother heading out to her second job to make ends meet, working the midnight shift, tell her hope is on the way,” said Edwards. “If your brother calls and says his credit cards are maxed out and he can’t send his kids to college, you tell him hope is on the way.”<BR><BR>Edwards shook hands with and signed autographs for well-wishers near the stage on the arena floor before leaving Hibbing for Ohio.<BR><BR>The stop on the Range was his third of the day, following earlier appearances in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.<BR><BR>A virtual who’s who of northeastern Minnesota Democrats appeared with Edwards.<BR><BR>Elyites on stage included St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman and DFL Sixth District Chair Barb Berglund.<BR><BR>State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) appeared but State Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) did not. He attended an economic development meeting that night in Tower.<BR><BR>A series of warmup speakers revved up support for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.<BR><BR>Rukavina, a lawmaker from Virginia, criticized Bush’s plan to allow individuals to invest some of their Social Security funds in the stock market, saying that many Iron Rangers “don’t have enough money to pay the supermarket.”<BR><BR>Veda Ponikvar, the 80-year-old former owner of the Chisholm Free-Press, introduced both Oberstar and Mondale.<BR><BR>Mondale, the Democrats’ nominee for president in 1984, called the Hibbing Arena the party’s “good luck room,” noting visits there by former presidents Harry Truman and John Kennedy, who campaigned at Hibbing in 1948 and 1960, respectively.<BR><BR>