HERMON (AP) – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards shook hands with startled patrons as they ate breakfast at a Maine truck stop on Thursday before taking off for New Hampshire.

Edwards went from table to table at Dysart’s Truck Stop restaurant, introducing himself, listening to their concerns and thanking a few soldiers for their service in the Mideast.

After a visit lasting no more than 15 minutes, the North Carolina senator and his entourage headed to Bangor’s airport and boarded a Kerry-Edwards campaign jet marked “The Real Deal” and headed to Nashua, N.H.

Edwards’ comments in New Hampshire echoed those of a day earlier in Maine, where he accused President Bush of failing to act on health care and education while doing nothing to hold down energy costs.

He also accused Bush of shifting the tax burden onto those less able to pay and encouraging the shipping of American jobs overseas.

Edwards’ comments sparked a sharp rebuttal from the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Maine chairman, who took aim at Kerry’s and Edwards’ record on economic, health care and environmental issues.

“It is clear to Mainers that the tax-and-spend policies of John Kerry and John Edwards will not grow the economy or stimulate job creation,” Bush-Cheney Maine Chairman Peter Cianchette said in a statement Wednesday night.

Cianchette said the Democratic candidates have sided “with their trial lawyer friends over the doctors and patients of America” by opposing medical malpractice reforms that would help to lower health care costs, while blocking energy legislation offered by the president.

At Dysart’s restaurant, disabled veteran Michael Clark of Albion expressed concerns to Edwards about whether Department of Veterans Affairs programs will be protected. “He says we definitely got to clean it up,” Clark said.

Ralph Gillespie took a photograph of his wife, Linda, with Edwards. The Gillespies are from St. Clairsville, Ohio, and were traveling through Maine in a motor home after a trip to Canada.

“I said good luck,”‘ Linda Gillespie said.

Edwards also thanked Maine Army National Guardsman Eric Stanley of Bangor, who served in Kuwait and Iraq. Stanley was sitting at a table near the front door in Dysart’s with two other guardsmen when Edwards arrived.

In other campaign activity Thursday, Maine first lady Karen Baldacci sought to pre-empt a planned “W Stands is for Women” event in Lewiston on Friday by President Bush’s wife Laura.

On Thursday afternoon, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s wife staged an event in Portland called “W is Wrong for Women.” Karen Baldacci and Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of a small business, questioned the president’s commitment to women’s pay equity and family planning programs.


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