PORTSMOUTH -- After a confusing and hectic start to his first New Hampshire campaign stop, former Sen. John Edwards told the approximately 800 people at the Little Harbour School Friday afternoon the future of America lies in their hands.
Edwards, a Democrat from North Carolina, called on the group to become a pro-active citizenry that tackles problems like universal health care, poverty and global warming.
"It's time for Americans to be patriotic about something besides war," he said.
But before Edwards even entered the building, he spoke to a group outside who were turned away because the room was filled to capacity. According to the Edwards campaign, more than 1,000 people were unable to get in, but only about 100 were outside to hear Edwards' impromptu speech.
When the former senator entered the gymnasium, he was greeted by a Foo Fighters song and a standing ovation.
Edwards opened his speech by acknowledging most Americans have been unhappy with the way the country has been run over the past four years, but he said change does not come from complaining, nor are problems always solved by politicians.
"I'm talking about all of us taking personal responsibility for America," he said. "That's what's got to happen to achieve the change we so desperately need."
This is Edwards' second presidential primary bid, having lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry in 2004 and later serving as his running mate. During his last campaign, the former North Carolina senator focused largely on poverty and labor issues.
On Friday, Edwards said he is still passionate about helping the working class, but he also spoke at length about improving America's image around the world.
One way to achieve this, he said, is to increase diplomatic efforts in Iraq, not send more troops.
"There's no military solution to what is happening in Iraq," he said. "The solution is political."
American foreign policy should include involvement in humanitarian efforts as well as protecting military interests, Edwards said, criticizing the country's lack of attention to the genocide in the Sudan and the African AIDS crisis.
"We need to be the example to the world," he said.
During the town hall portion of the event, questions ranged from campaign finance reform to immigration and trade issues. The two topics that received the most reaction from the crowd, however, were health care and gay marriage.
Edwards was not specific about how to provide universal coverage, but he promised he would have a universal health care plan at some point during the campaign. He also dodged the question of gay marriage, saying he saw the need for equal rights for same sex partners, whether through civil unions or equal benefits, but that he personally struggled with legalizing gay marriage.
Overall, the crowd seemed pleased with Edwards; many flocked around him to get an autograph or shake his hand after the event.
"It was wonderful, better than I expected," said Elyse Barry of New Castle. "I love his values. I'm not sure our whole country is ready for his very humanistic values, but it really resonates with me."
Jim Bresler was visiting from California and decided to include Edwards' visit in his trip.
"I think he's genuinely committed to doing good in the world," he said. "It's obvious to me he can speak off the cuff on these issues because he's thinking about them."