Fairfax, Va. (CNSNews.com) - Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, making a swing through Northern Virginia on the eve of Tuesday's primary, accused President Bush of dividing America along economic and racial lines, and he cast himself as a candidate of "hope" for the poor and downtrodden.
"We live in a country where there are really two different Americas - one for all those families who have everything they need whenever they want it, and then one for everybody else," said Edwards, who is reportedly worth up to $30 million. "It doesn't have to be that way. You and I can change that."
Edwards spent much of the stump speech criticizing Bush on domestic issues, but he also promised not to run an attack-oriented campaign - at least when competing against the five other Democrats who are seeking the party's nomination.
Edwards, who spoke before a packed hall at George Mason University, pleaded with his supporters for the chance to take on Bush this November. He said he would help the poor and minorities by changing the tax system, improving the schools and making health care a priority.
"I've been getting ready for this fight my whole life," he told the cheering crowd. "I am so ready for this fight. You must give me a shot at George Bush because if you give me a shot at George Bush, I will give you back the White House."
Edwards mocked Bush for his handling of the economy. The White House released its annual economic report to Congress on Monday, and in it Bush said the economic picture was improving. He credited last year's tax cut for triggering economic growth.
But Edwards said the economy was anything but fine, given the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.
"These people, what planet do they live on?" he said of Bush and his economic advisers. "I wish this president, who lives such a sheltered life ... I wish for once in his life he'd go out and do what I do every single day, and meet with real people in town hall meetings."
Bush, in fact, met with a group of workers Monday in Springfield, Mo. His visit to an employee-owned auto-parts store coincided with the release of the administration's economic report. The trip to Missouri came after recent visits to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Later this week he will travel to Pennsylvania, a state he lost in 2000.
About a dozen Bush supporters who dressed in their campaign gear and wore "W" stickers defended the president after Edwards' speech. Dana Loeser, chairman of the George Mason University College Republicans, said Edwards' message was filled with hypocrisy.
"He said he'd do a lot of things, like provide clothes and provide warmth and food for every person, but he never explained how he was going to do that," she said. "I found it amusing that he had a bunch of ideas and he never explained how he was going to accomplish them."
But Edwards' optimistic outlook won over supporters like Ruth Newberry and Dirk Huntington, both from Alexandria, Va.
"I teach biology, and the dual America he talks about is actually present in the school I teach at," Huntington said. "That's the message I identify with."
Added Newberry: "He's very uplifting and I think people want to hear that right now. He's so brilliant and he's so smart that he'd be able to do everything he says. He'd be able to make it all happen."
Edwards' supporters said they wanted their candidate to stay in the race for the long haul, even if he loses the two Southern primaries being held Tuesday. Voters in Tennessee are also heading to the polls.
The latest polls show Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry with commanding leads in both states.
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