- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

RICHMOND Sen. John Edwards began testing the presidential waters for 2004 with an appearance here last night before enthusiastic state Democrats at their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.
Mr. Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, presented himself as someone who understands the concerns of conservative, rural voters.
"I grew up in a little town in the South and I understand, I think, what people care about there. They want people who have strong principles and will stand behind them no matter what the opposition is," he said at the fund-raising event held this year at the Richmond Marriott.
Mr. Edwards, 48, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and an early contender for the party's presidential nomination in 2004. After stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, he came here with members of his political action committee.
Although not saying he was running for president in two years, he stressed that Washington needed better fiscal management and criticized Mr. Bush's budget deficits for fiscal 2003.
"We ought to tell people the truth. You know, when I look at this most recent budget that I see coming from the White House and some of these budgets I've seen since I have been in Washington, it reminds me an awful lot of an Enron budget," he said, referring to the bankrupt energy giant.
Mr. Edwards stressed that he was a fiscal conservative who understands the value of government's living within its means.
The party loyalists in the dinner audience of 1,000 warmed to his stories about people down on their luck who could use such Democratic Party initiatives as a patients' bill of rights and a prescription benefit for senior citizens.
He was also a big draw, selling out the ballroom and bringing in $200,000 for the state party.
Mr. Edwards seeks to model a possible presidential bid on the strategy of fellow Democrat Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, who also spoke at the event. Mr. Warner campaigned as a conservative Democrat who reached out to rural voters.
Each complimented the other as well. Mr. Edwards called Mr. Warner a "superstar" and said the governor's win in Virginia shows that Democrats can win races in conservative states.
"It proved that when we talk about issues that affect people's day-to-day lives and we stay on those issues, we can win," Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Warner also was greeted warmly by Democrats celebrating his victory last year in the gubernatorial election. Speaking to his core group of supporters, Mr. Warner and another Democrat who won in November, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, also waxed partisan.
"We kicked their tails," Mr. Warner said of Republicans who lost to Democrats in two special elections for state senator and delegate.
Mr. Kaine, president of the Republican-controlled Senate, criticized Republicans in that chamber as they argued over last-minute appointments made by former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican.
"But not only were there the midnight appointments that you've seen in the papers the last few days, I have this task in learning how to be lieutenant governor," Mr. Kaine said. "But what I find is we walk into the General Assembly and gavel the meeting to order, and you immediately take a recess for hours so that the Republicans can fight with each other about who's going to get purged off the Republican list."

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