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Edwards Condemns NAFTA, Discounts Celebrity Campaigners

John Edwards at at town hall meeting in Concord Saturday. (AP).

CONCORD, N.H. -- As his main rivals for the Democratic nomination are wielding the big names today -- Oprah Winfrey for Barack Obama and Bill and Chelsea Clinton for Hillary -- John Edwards is trying to make a virtue of his lack of star power. He focused his day on an aggressively un-flashy subject, the 14th anniversary of the passage of NAFTA, condemning the deal as a "particularly clear example of... big corporate powers getting exactly what they want in Washington, at the cost of over a million American jobs and incredible damage to the middle class in this country."

Along the way, he took a swipe at Hillary Clinton for her attempts to distance herself on the campaign trail from the trade deal signed by her husband in 1993.

The Clintons "were the movers behind NAFTA along with big corporate America. My view is that NAFTA's been a disaster for America and has cost us over a million jobs," Edwards said to reporters after a town hall meeting here with voters. "She'll have to carry that burden herself in trying to convince people that now she's changed her view."

Asked about the absence of any A-list celebrities at his side this weekend, Edwards noted that he's had some boldface names with him during the campaign, including Bonnie Raitt. "Most people vote on the basis of candidates themselves," he said. "I don't think that is a crtical part of what's happening. People take this very seriously. I don't think they decide who to vote for based on what movie star is for you." But asked whether Obama's events with Oprah amounted to a "stunt," Edwards demurred. "Any presidential candidate has the right to bring somebody out who's supporting them to try to help attract a crowd," he said.

His remarks about Clinton and NAFTA aside, Edwards has in recent days notably dialed down his criticisms of her in his stump speeches. But his appeal remains as firey as ever in its basic anti-corporate populism. Speaking to a couple hundred voters packed into a conference center function room here, Edwards compared the current political and economic climate to the Gilded Age and said it was time for a new Franklin Roosevelt to renew the "soul of America."

"The notion that we're going to sit at a table and negotiate with oil companies and drug companies and insurance companies, that they're going to voluntarily give their power away... right. That is a complete fantasy," he said. "We have an epic fight in front of us. The only way they're going to give away their power is that we're going to have it to take it from them."

One question facing Edwards is whether this message will resonate well outside Iowa, where the Democratic caucus electorate is solidly working and middle-class and where he remains close in the polls with Obama and Clinton. In New Hampshire, the Democratic primary electorate trends more upscale, with many of the liberal, highly-educated professionals who Bill Bradley appealed to eight years ago and who Obama hopes to do well with this time around.

One Edwards supporter at the Concord event, local Democratic activist Jon Bresler, surveyed the crowd and said it seemed to be more blue-collar than the voters Edwards drew in the primary four years ago, suggesting that there is an audience in New Hampshire for his populist appeal. "There's not a person in there with a shirt that cost more than $12," Bresler said. "They're here for health care, for education, for getting out of Iraq. This is blue-collar New Hampshire, and they're responding to his message."

Audience member Normandie Blake, the editor of a group of small community newspapers, said the appeal sold her on Edwards. "I'm really impressed," she said. "This country is going downhill, and the rich are getting richer."

But Lee Birak, a retiree financial planner, said that as much as he liked Edwards' plans and priorities, he was not sure whether it made sense for Edwards to be so forceful in his condemnations of corporate America. If Edwards did get elected, Birak asked, how could he get anything accomplished with that rhetoric?

"He's turning it a little into a class struggle, and I don't know if that's too polarizing. You can say that corporations control the government, but you can't say that you're not going to work with them, because that's not realistic," said Birak, 59. "If he's confronting us with a class struggle, how is going to bring business and Republicans and the middle class together, how's he doing to do all that if he defines the lines so sharply, if it's us against them. He's got to bring them to the table, and if you slam them too hard they're not going to show up at the party."

--Alec MacGillis

By Post Editor  |  December 8, 2007; 5:30 PM ET
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In January 2008 NAFTA requires Mexican tariffs on corn and beans be lifted. Due to a lack of other options that will result in an additional 300,000 Mexican farmers becoming illegal aliens in the United States.

Posted by: murphy_535 | December 16, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

yes i myrton woolen wanted ta vote for hilory but when she was fighty for amesty i found her just like daddy bush and presdent bush the hell with the small people of america let them die and i give 100%to ilagals from mexico;give 100&nafta &allow mexico trking company drive our hyws
know we will sew all american companeis that ask for employees to talk english lang politains i do not speak spanish this is a slap in my face now how can i livein my own country if you do this english lang is here to stay

Posted by: mewoolen | December 10, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the celebrity endorsements, Edwards could be responding to the loss of Sean Penn to the Kucinich campaign, wishing the great "embarrassing rant" could have been for him.

Jon Bresler makes some great points but leads me to ask; How much did Edward's shirt cost?

Posted by: msfinn123 | December 10, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

No more Clinton's.

NAFTA, the superhighway and the North American Union. IT's all true people. Google them.

Posted by: Chance1 | December 10, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Edwards could use Stephen Colbert. Cleveland would support Colbert's candidacy:

Check it out.

Posted by: jnedley | December 9, 2007 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Watching three Clintons generations on stage scared me to death. Guys, it looks like a monarchy. This is a family business !
What next ?
Chelsea will also run for President in 2016 under her father resume and President Hillary Clinton experience from 2008-2016?
We have already seen that senario with Bush father and Bush son, and it's not democracy.

Posted by: unfait | December 9, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Why is anyone concerned that Edwards won't be able to work with Corporate America. Corporations that work not only for profit but for the benefit of their employees and customers, are concerned about the environment and safety of their products, have nothing to worry about. Corporations that circumvent, if not the law, ethical behavior, with no concern for the environment, the people who work for them or their customers, should be called to task.

Posted by: BJLeone | December 9, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

It was wonderful to see all three generation with Mrs. Clinton, that's the kind of support we woman need in this mans world, which is currently a mess! Shame on Oprah! Who put woman back 50years... Madame President of the United's an extraordinary thought. We truly are in a momentous time, where a woman's potential has no limitations," "Hillary Clinton has already proven to a generation of women that there are no limits for success. She is driven by her passion for public service and her belief in the enormous potential of our country. Smart, capable and strong in her convictions, Hillary has transcended the dictates of what is thought to be possible for our time.
"Hillary is a powerful voice for change as we find our country at an important crossroads. Under her leadership, our country will regain its respect within the global community. She will prioritize issues of global climate change, universal healthcare and rebuilding a strong economy. After 8 long years, the public will once again have faith in their government.
"Another former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, 'In government, in business, and in the professions there may be a day when women will be looked upon as persons. We are, however, far from that day as yet.' More than 50 years later 'that day' is now upon us...and Hillary Clinton is ready to shatter through that glass ceiling for all women."

Posted by: dyck21005 | December 9, 2007 8:06 AM | Report abuse

The caucus and primary early states are fast approaching and people are starting to pay more attention to the substance of issues and less to fluff and celebrity. Now is the time we will see who rises to the top as a leader. I fully expect John Edwards to continue to speak to issues and drive the debate for the good of all Americans.

Posted by: DeeW | December 8, 2007 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Did Edwards do anything to work on the problems with NAFTA while he was in the Senate? As a matter of fact, what did Edwards actually accomplish in the Senate? He has served six years in elective office and has spent as much if not more time campaigning for office.

Posted by: danielhancock | December 8, 2007 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I must confess, where seeing Hillary using Phallic Symbols, was slighty amusing...

Seeing John Edwards doing the same...


I always assumed Lawyers Bit, not Swallowed!

Posted by: rat-the | December 8, 2007 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I hope that as people REALLY start to pay attention this last month that Edwards will get the consideration.

People are seeing Obama surge in Iowa, and it will sink in that this is no joke. People will have to decide if they believe that a woman or a black man can really get elected as easily as a white male.

People will turn to Edwards. At least that is my hope: fast the prejudice directly, rather than kidding ourselves that it won't effect the general election.

Posted by: river845 | December 8, 2007 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps it's just fluke thing... the Trail's top story is Edwards in New Hampshire. Good for him, he deserves some positive press.

Next we have Chelsea stumping -- no appearing -- with her mother. (According to the NY Times "in a frigid airplane hangar" with about 100 people in attendance in Winterset Iowa. (Bill was in Charleston, SC, speaking to about 120 members of the AKA sorority at their monthly meeting. Again I learned this at the Times.)

The all-important "Celebrity Endorsements" lead off with Sean Penn sorta, kinda embarassing Dennis Kucinich's campaign with a rant.

Romney's on the Trail's front page too.

But the big news of the day: Oprah and Obama before 10,000 in Des Moines is noticeably absent. But of course it's just 6:27 Mountain time (8:27 Eastern) and it's a Saturday in December (peak holiday shopping, you know) and the Oprah event was at 4:30 eastern...

Ah. must be the carrier pigeon strike...

Posted by: jade7243 | December 8, 2007 8:30 PM | Report abuse

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