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Edwards discusses health care on a Belle Plaine front porch
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John Edwards talks with Marian Fogarty, center, and Felicitas Sartes, right, on Fogarty's front porch in Belle Plaine Saturday morning. (MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen)
It has been a busy couple of weeks of presidential politics in Minnesota, and there's no sign the campaign pace will slow down. President Bush will be back in the state next week for a campaign rally in downtown St. Paul. Friday evening, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards rallied supporters gathered in the Twin Cities suburb of Rosemount. He campaigns in Belle Plaine, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota Saturday.

Belle Plaine, Minn. — Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards gathered with a small group of Minnesotans on a small town front porch Saturday to talk about prescription drugs.

Edwards described the recent Medicare and prescription drug law as a "giveaway to big drug companies."

Democrats and Republicans have split over whether the law will significantly lower drug costs. And the law's first widely available benefit, a Medicare-approved discount drug card program, is off to a slow start marked by confusion over how it works.

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Image Kerry/Edwards supporters

"Most of the benefits don't even kick in until 2006 - after the election. That's when people are really going to see the problem," Edwards said.

The U.S. senator from North Carolina sat in a lawn chair on the porch of Marian Fogarty's home, along with five Minnesotans concerned about rising health care and drug costs. He told them allowing drugs to be reimported from Canada would put pressure on the market to hold down prices.

"It can be done safely, and it will help bring down costs for everybody," he said.

President Bush and the pharmaceutical industry have opposed legalizing drug imports based on safety concerns.

Edwards also said the government should be able to negotiate prices with large drug companies. And he joked about the large quantity of television advertising for prescription drugs by the big drug companies.

"They're spending more money on advertising than they're spending on research and development," Edwards said.

Fogarty, 75, supports drug reimportation. She said she already gets her drugs from Canada through a Minnesota Senior Federation program - at half the cost of what she'd pay in a local pharmacy.

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Image A rally in Rosemount

"It was what I wanted to hear," she said of Edwards' remarks, adding that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit is "totally confusing."

Melissa Wagner, 36, of Lake Crystal, also joined Edwards' on Fogarty's porch. With a family of five, she said, health care costs take up more than a quarter of her income. "It's not just a senior issue," she said.

Not everyone in Belle Plaine - a town of around 3,800 people about 30 miles southwest of Minneapolis - was excited about Edwards' visit. Patrick and Emilie Duffy said they will vote for Bush in November - not Democratic candidate John Kerry.

"I don't think Kerry has solutions. He has criticism," Emilie Duffy said.

Both aged 63, the Duffys said they're glad both sides are talking about rising health care costs, but said they haven't heard enough specifics from the Kerry campaign.

"Who's going to pay for it? Someone's going to have to," she said.

In his remarks, Edwards said a Kerry administration would pay for its health care programs by canceling Bush's tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 per year.

Who in (the Bush) administration would we give the gold medal for jobs? Who would we give the silver medal for health care? I'm not even sure they've got anyone who'd even qualify!
- Sen. John Edwards

Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Washington, said Kerry and Edwards have no credibility on the issue of Medicare and prescription drugs.

"They both voted against the first (Medicare) prescription drug benefit," she said. "John Kerry and John Edwards continue to mislead voters on this issue."

About three dozen Kerry-Edwards supporters watched from behind yellow police tape in a park across the street from Fogarty's house. Nearly the entire block around her home was cordoned off.

Afterward, Edwards crossed the street to greet the supporters, who were waving Kerry-Edwards signs. He spent several minutes shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appearance, in Fargo, N.D.

It was the second day of events in Minnesota for Edwards.

On Friday night Edwards said the campaign he and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry were waging embodies the best of the athletes in Greece: dedication, hard work and vision.

"This night represents so much for the entire world," said Sen. Edwards, the vice presidential nominee. "It represents a lot for America, a country that believes we can do anything if we put our hearts and minds to it."

But in this contest, he said, there won't be any medals for Bush or his team.

"Who in this administration would we give the gold medal for jobs? Who would we give the silver medal for health care?" Edwards said. "I'm not even sure they've got anyone who'd even qualify!"

More than 1,000 people jammed a gym at Rosemount High School for the event. The gym was decked out with American flags, and people ate cotton candy and popcorn. Billed as an "Olympic Watch Party," a big screen showed the opening ceremonies of the games - the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, that is - because television broadcasts of the ceremony from Athens had not yet begun.

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Image Tom Dirnberger

Former Gov. Wendell Anderson, himself an Olympian - his 1956 U.S. hockey team won the silver medal - introduced Edwards, playing on the candidate's boyish looks and gregariousness.

"We'll finally, after four years, have a vice president we can find," Anderson said. "We'll even have a vice president who smiles, a vice president who enjoys campaigning, loves people and never uses language that violates the FCC rules."

Edwards spoke for a little more than 20 minutes, hitting almost all of the major themes of the Democratic ticket's campaign for the White House.

Edwards called for universal health care, more financial help for people who want to attend college, more stringent environmental protections and a reduction of the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Edwards also called for pulling back tax cuts that disproportionately benefit millionaires, and for increasing the minimum wage.

The North Carolina senator promised more jobs for Americans, and returned to the "two Americas" theme he's used frequently over the past several months. Edwards said the country needs to address the causes of poverty.

"We have to not just talk about -- but do something about -- the millions of Americans who live in poverty for a very simple reason -- because it is wrong. And we have moral responsibility to lift these families out of poverty," he said.

Edwards praised presidential candidate John Kerry's war record. He said a Kerry-Edwards administration would make America safer by rebuilding what he says are strained relations with other nations of the world.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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