Saturday, July 14, 2007

Edwards already making headlines in Appalachia with planned Wednesday stops retracing RFK's

A planned visit by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was the lead story in this week's edition of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., and a planned stop on the other side of Pine Mountain in Wise, Va., won Edwards a story in the Coalfield Progress of Norton, Wise County's main paper. The Big Sandy News, named for far Eastern Kentucky's main river, had three articles pegged to Edwards' planned stop in Prestonsburg, including an editorial headlined "Visit is welcome but could have negative impact." (MapQuest route)

The Eagle said Edwards would be the first presidential candidate in Letcher County since Robert Kennedy came in 1968, as an "unannounced candidate" exploring poverty. Edwards is retracing the Appalachian part of Kennedy's route Wednesday to conclude a tour focused on poverty. The Eagle ran a large Associated Press color photo of Edwards on its front page, and continued its story to the editorial page, with a Tom Bethell photo of Kennedy in the town of Fleming-Neon. The paper noted that "President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in 1964 from Eastern Kentucky." The Big Sandy News, a regional, twice-weekly paper, noted Johnson's visit "to Martin and Johnson counties," which the paper serves.

"While we're pleased that a presidential candidate is showing an interest in Eastern Kentucky, we're a little cautious about Edwards' visit since the theme of his tour is poverty," opined Tony Fyffe of the News, predicting "news footage of rundown homes, trash-ridden roads and streams, etc. . . . We don't deny that thousands upon thousands of Eastern Kentuckians live in poverty, but that's the one negative image the region and the state have had to overcome for decades. Forget about the wealth and all of the successes, Kentucky is nothing more than a poverty-stricken state, according to the national media. . . . If he wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we hope Edwards returns to the region and puts his poverty action plan to work. Something tells us, however, that we'll be just a memory as soon as the tour bus leaves the region next Wednesday." The Big Sandy News has a subscription-only Web site.

Bonnie Bates of the Progress, citing a campaign release, says the former U.S. senator from North Carolina "will arrive in Wise sometime on July 17. . . . On July 18, Edwards will make an appearance at the county fairgrounds as volunteers prepare for this year’s Remote Area Medical health outreach, according to a media contact for Edwards’ campaign." Then Edwards will to to Whitesburg to answer questions from young people at the Appalshop media and arts center, and finally to Prestonsburg for a speech at the old Floyd County Courthouse. The Progress has a subscription site. The Mountain Eagle is not online.

Edwards' tour "will reinvigorate an old campaign theme and test an even older notion: that talking about poor people is a politically losing proposition," writes Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times. "The poverty rate in America has stayed fairly constant since the late 1960s. But polls show that the issue of poverty and homelessness consistently ranks low among voters' priorities. The discussion has become so fraught with moral and racial overtones that presidential contenders often find it best to say little or nothing. But Edwards insists that "people do care" about those less fortunate and believe government has a role, even a responsibility, to help those who cannot help themselves. They just have to be asked." Nine paragraphs later, Barabak writes, "Edwards could also benefit from talking about poverty, precisely because there is apparently so little political gain, demonstrating a personal conviction that transcends polling." At the story's end, he notes that the poverty tour could also counteract recent publicity about Edwards' wealth and $400 haircut. (Read more)

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