John Edwards Set to Embark on Poverty Tour Following in the footsteps of former presidential hopeful and New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Edwards will set off on a 12-city tour of poor America this weekend.
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John Edwards Set to Embark on Poverty Tour

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John Edwards Set to Embark on Poverty Tour

John Edwards Set to Embark on Poverty Tour

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Good morning.

JOHN EDWARDS: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You know, as I've just said, Robert Kennedy went on a similar trip during his campaign for president. What do you think his tour accomplished that you can accomplish now by retracing some of his steps?

EDWARDS: I have some of my own ideas about what needs to be done. But in addition to that, there are things being done in the cities and communities that we'll be going to that are creative.

MONTAGNE: Well, we're going to get to some specifics. But you say taking time off the presidential campaign - isn't this part, really, of the presidential campaign?

EDWARDS: Well, I think the presidential campaign - because of the bully pulpit that any serious presidential candidate has - gives you an opportunity to shine a light on the things you care most about. And I want to take advantage of that opportunity to address this issue.

MONTAGNE: The last Democrat elected president, Bill Clinton, he won in part because he promised to reform the welfare system while emphasizing, very much, personal responsibility. How does that fit into what you're doing?

EDWARDS: I do think there are important societal, cultural components that have to be addressed. You know, when young women, 13, 14 years old, are having their second or third child and they're living in poverty, the odds are overwhelming their children will grow up in poverty. We have to get at those causes, in addition to the financial piece of the puzzle.

MONTAGNE: Now, you're beginning this tour, as we said, in New Orleans. The city is still struggling to come back. Can you really make people care about fighting poverty when it appears that Katrina and its aftermath didn't?

EDWARDS: But what happens is, when there's no national leadership on these issues and time passes, people go back to their lives. They have busy lives. And that's the reason that shining a light on this issue is so important, because with national leadership, the - the will is there. The desire is there. But it has to be tapped into.

MONTAGNE: And in this case, you've been criticized for living in an expensive mansion, for getting a very expensive $400 haircut, working for a hedge fund; possibly more seriously, using monies from one of your foundations to raise awareness about poverty, using that money to effectively stay on the campaign trail. How do you answer those criticisms?

EDWARDS: Before I ever ran for any political office or was even involved in politics, helping organize workers, thousands of workers into unions. Elizabeth and I started a college program for low-income kids to be able to go to college who were willing to work when they were in school. I'm very proud of what I've spent my life doing, and I'll do it as long as I'm breathing, whether I'm involved in politics or not.

MONTAGNE: Just finally, voters ranked the war in Iraq at the top of their list of concerns right now.

EDWARDS: Yup.

MONTAGNE: Why make fighting poverty a central theme of your campaign?

EDWARDS: Well, there's a difference between looking at a poll to see what voters care about and only talking about those issues and leading, and trying to...

MONTAGNE: Well, let me - I realize this is an ongoing issue - poverty in America - but it isn't just a poll with the Iraq war. It is a hugely momentous feeling across the country. It's not just a poll; it's a big issue for many, many, many people.

EDWARDS: And because New Orleans has faded from some people's memory and because I believe it's important for America to focus on this issue, I just want to make sure that this is among the things that we as a nation are addressing.

MONTAGNE: John Edwards is a Democratic candidate for president. Thank you very much for joining us.

EDWARDS: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear John Edwards give details of his anti-poverty plan at npr.org.

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