Tuesday, August 17, 2004

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — In his second visit to Arkansas in less than two weeks, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards yesterday lamented lost jobs and ineffective tax cuts for which he blamed the Bush administration.

The senator from North Carolina promised that he and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry would create new jobs.

“And we will have a trade policy that works for American workers because American workers can compete with anyone, anywhere, given the chance,” Mr. Edwards told about 175 people at a town-hall-style meeting at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, director of President Bush’s re-election effort in the state, which Mr. Bush won in 2000, told the Associated Press that Mr. Kerry would fare better in Arkansas if he didn’t spread his message widely.

“Arkansans don’t know much about [Mr. Kerry], and when they do they will see how far he is from where Arkansans are,” Mr. Huckabee said. “The best bet is to keep John Kerry from being known to most Arkansans.”

In a statement later, Mr. Huckabee said Democrats weren’t offering voters a reason to keep Mr. Bush from winning Arkansas, which offers six of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.

“He still hasn’t explained why he thinks Arkansans should vote for the most liberal ticket since George McGovern was the Democrat nominee,” the governor said.

In an apparent response to Republican critics who have said Mr. Edwards has the accent but not the values of most Southerners, Mr. Edwards told the crowd he shares more than an accent with them.

“We share the same values,” he said. “John Kerry and I believe in Friday night football and Sunday church.”

Arkansas was considered a battleground state at the start of the year, but a recent analysis by the Associated Press showed it leaning toward Mr. Bush. In July, Mr. Kerry pulled his ads in Arkansas and reduced spending in other Southern states to meet needs elsewhere. He stopped all advertising in August to save money for the fall.

Mr. Kerry also has made fewer trips to Arkansas than the other candidates. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Fort Smith and Hot Springs two weeks ago, a day before Mr. Edwards’ trip to North Little Rock. Mr. Bush has visited three times this year.

“We’re considered a ‘critical must-win’ state for the president,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Mr. Edwards didn’t mention former President Bill Clinton, the state’s most famous Democrat, during his 30-minute appearance. He said the Democratic ticket will oppose changes to overtime laws and offer tax breaks to encourage companies not to send jobs overseas.

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