PORTSMOUTH — Democratic presidential candidate and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards jumped into friendly waters Wednesday during a forum hosted by Seacoast Media Group, parent company of the Portsmouth Herald.
Edwards was greeted to a standing ovation by the 100-plus people in attendance, and although he did face some tough questioning, a small sampling of attendees following the meeting showed they were in step with Edwards' views.
"I would say that I support him — well, I'm still on the fence a bit, maybe 70 percent in support," said Portsmouth resident John Wyckoff.
Wyckoff said the forum, specifically structured to focus on the war in Iraq, swayed his opinion of the candidate.
"It actually helped him," said Wyckoff. "It was nice to have him answer questions on a one-on-one basis, although I wish we could have talked about more than the war."
Wyckoff said he pretty much agreed with everything Edwards said during the hourlong forum, in which he touched on topics ranging from withdrawing the vast majority of troops from Iraq within nine months of taking office to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and erasing the stain on the United States' reputation caused by the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.
"We need to restore America's image abroad," said Edwards to rousing applause from voters.
That message struck a particular chord with Susan McClure of Portsmouth, who was traveling out of the country during the 2004 election and experienced first hand foreigners' opinions of America.
"I appreciate the fact that he spoke about our reputation in the world," said McClure. "Americans are not viewed kindly throughout the world — and Americans need to understand that — and he said he intends to change that."
The intimate setting, coupled with Edwards' southern charm, also resonated with attendees.
York, Maine, resident Diane Kleist agreed with Wyckoff that the one-on-one contact separated Edwards from the other candidates.
"I thought from the Democratic forum form last week and from today that his answers were the clearest," said Kleist. "Also, when you asked him a question, he gave a straight answer, where some candidates gave a political, non-committal answer."
Rye resident Bob Vincent said the forum helped clarify Edwards' position on Iraq and "put some distance between himself and others."
Vincent, who said he is an independent and will probably not choose a candidate until the 11th hour, said he agreed with Edwards on getting out of Iraq, just not how it should be done.
"Our troops are considered the devil by many in the Middle East," said Vincent. "I would prefer to pull our troops out (of the region) entirely and let others step in."