DURHAM, N.C. The front porch conjures up images of rocking chairs, lazy summer afternoons and icy drinks. But not in election-year politics as Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards use the setting to reach out to voters in choreographed events with miked candidates and hand-picked audiences.
"The most important thing you can do as a political leader is not to talk, but to listen," Edwards said Monday from the front porch of the split-level home of Durham's Democratic mayor, Bill Bell.
It might have looked as though Sen. Edwards just stopped by for a folksy chat in this leafy, upper middle-class neighborhood in his home state.
But the neighbors and friends were hand picked. A large camera stand stood on the lawn. Satellite trucks lined the street. Electrical cables snaked everywhere. Dozens of reporters and photographers were present. A man pushing a lawnmower was stopped by police from getting any closer.
The format plays to Edwards' strengths, Democratic strategists suggested. From his years of addressing juries directly and without notes as a trial lawyer, Edwards prefers not to speak at podiums or use prepared remarks.
It also allows him to emphasize his humble Carolina mill-town roots.
On Monday, Edwards removed his suit coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves and held forth for about half an hour.
"You go to where voters live and listen to them about what's going on in people's lives," said campaign spokesperson Mark Kornblau, who said the technique works well for both Kerry and Edwards. He said Kerry used it first, and that it will be a regular feature of the general election campaign.
"Generally, it's an outgrowth of their desire to continue their conversation with the American people," he said.
Reed Dickens, a Bush campaign spokesperson, dismissed Edwards' event as "the fourth most liberal member of the Senate trying to soften the image of the first most liberal senator."
The Bush campaign also distributed a statement from the Republican mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Pat McCrory, denouncing Edwards's front-porch campaigning in a state that offers 15 electoral votes.
"North Carolina has seen a lot of John Edwards on television over the past few weeks but we have barely seen him at all in our state over the past few years," McCrory said. "It is apparent he has little in common with the values of our state."
Questions from the neighborhood allowed Edwards to discuss some of his favorite subjects, including education, the loss of U.S. jobs overseas and the swelling federal deficit.
"I don't want to over promise because President Bush has put us in a ditch. But what we've got to do about it is to work our way out of it. It will take some time," he said on the deficit question.
"Senator Kerry and I are going to stand with families and kids as we always have ... instead of being on the side of insurance companies and big drug companies, which is unfortunately where they (Bush and Cheney) are," he said.
Edwards also netted $1 million at a luncheon, bringing to $4.2 million the amount he has collected since he began campaigning alone last week. Kerry began his "Front Porch Tour" last week in the Philadelphia suburb of Lansdowne, Pa., while Edwards started in a middle-class New Orleans neighborhood.
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