Presidential Candidate John Edwards doles out autographs after speaking to supporters and potential supporters alike at an informal appearance in Exeter at the home of Greg and Julie Gilman. ——— Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist photo / SMG
EXETER — More than 300 people crammed onto the lawn, stairs and inside of the High Street home of Greg and Julie Gilman Saturday afternoon to hear Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards.
The crowd was so large that Edwards had to speak twice — once to a crowd outside and then to the people inside.
"This is just an indication of the early interest in the process here. Four years ago, this early interest was tepid at best," said Joe Pace, chairman of the Exeter Democratic Committee, who added the interest is because "it's a pivotal election."
Edwards arrived just after 3 p.m. dressed in faded Levi's and a white button down shirt. He stood on a folding chair to address about 150 people gathered on the lawn. He touted his universal health care plan and spoke of the closing the gap between the very, very wealthy in the country and "everybody else."
"We cannot continue to sustain this in America," he said, adding his mission is to work to lift American families out of poverty. To do that, he said there needs to be access to universal health care, affordable housing and access to a college education.
Edwards said that people tend to think of issues facing the country, such as the war in Iraq, the energy crisis and health care, separately. But, he said, if people thought of them together and how each affects the other, they could find a solution.
For example, the use of alternative forms of energy would lessen the country's reliance on foreign oil to survive.
"If we reduce demand, the prices are going to go down," he said, adding, "These things are like dominoes, each influences the next."
Edwards also said, "We desperately need to end the war in Iraq," which drew applause.
Bruce Gatchell of Epping asked Edwards what he thought of those making a profit from the war and what, if anything, he felt should be done about the issue.
Edwards said Congress and the Justice Department need to investigate those groups or individuals making money on the war, which he said was not right.
One audience member said she was concerned about lobbyists and the amount of power they wield in Washington.
Edwards said that he has never accepted money from any lobbyist group from the moment he entered politics.
Those at the house party were both Edwards supporters and undecided voters.
Mike Wissler of Exeter said he supported Edwards during the last election and still thinks he is the best man for the job.
"I just like his truthfulness," Wissler said, adding he also likes Edwards stance on ending the war in Iraq.
Judy Hanlon, an independent voter from Stratham, said it was the third time she's heard Edwards speak and is still undecided; though she liked what he had to say on Saturday. "He seemed to answer all the questions," she said.
Hanlon said she is looking for a candidate who is committed to ending the war in Iraq as well as reforming the health care system so that there is universal access for all citizens.
Mike Stauffis, a Democrat from Dover, said he liked Edwards but is undecided. "He's the kind of guy you really want to vote for but can he break out of the bottom of the pack," Stauffis said, adding he also likes Senator Hillary Clinton.
Elizabeth Keniston of Stratham said she wants to see a candidate who is committed to providing medical and mental health support to soldiers when they return from the war.