By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - The only way to send a message to the rest of the world that Americans emphatically reject the humiliating abuse of Iraqi prisoners is to elect John F. Kerry as president, Sen. John Edwards told Ohio Democrats at their annual dinner.
"All of us - it goes without saying - condemn it. It goes against the values we hold as Americans. Just think about the damage it's doing to our image around the world," Edwards said Saturday night, adding that the prisoner abuse scandal is making the mission in Iraq "much harder."
While he called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Edwards said the buck should stop at the White House. "This is not about the secretary of defense. It's about the president of the United States."
Edwards, the Democratic North Carolina senator who dropped out of the presidential race after the Ohio primary, called Ohio "ground zero" in the presidential race.
Though often mentioned as a possible running mate for Kerry, Edwards said afterward that the vice presidential selection process was confidential and that he wasn't in Ohio to campaign for the job. Under questioning from reporters, Edwards admitted only that he thought he could help bring disillusioned Howard Dean voters back into the Democratic fold.
Still, his address to 1,300 Ohio Democrats sounded much like his campaign stump speech, speaking of "two Americas" - two health care systems, two public school systems and 35 million people living in poverty in a nation of vast wealth.
And he said politicians aren't doing enough to promote racial equality.
"I have seen the ugliest face of discrimination and segregation," he said. "These debates we have in Washington about judges - this is not an abstract issue. We need to know with certainty that these judges will enforce the laws against discrimination."
The Saturday night event - emceed by Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island - raised $250,000 for the Ohio Democratic Party.
Former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer, who moved back to Cincinnati last month to help campaign for Democrats around the state, won the "Democrat of the Year" award from the party.
For the first time in history, Springer said, Americans can't guarantee that their children will have a better life than they have - in part because of tuition increases that have resulted from cutbacks in state and federal funding.
Springer, who aborted a run for the U.S. Senate last year but who has hinted interest in the 2006 governor's race, urged the party faithful to return to their liberal roots.
"Don't try to out-Republican the Republicans," Springer told the Democrats. "We can't play golf as well, anyway."
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