CLINTON — Presidential hopeful John Edwards addressed his proposal for universal health care during a campaign stop in Clinton on Saturday.

Edwards, a former Senator from North Carolina, and his wife Elizabeth, spoke before a crowd of nearly 300 people in the Ashford University Library. Clinton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jean Pardee introduced Edwards saying he is running for president “to bring change to America,” which brought applause from the audience.

“John Edwards believes that we must have a leader who has a clear vision of where to lead America. He has proposed the first detailed health care plan, he has been a leader focused on poverty in America, stopping the war in Iraq, halting global warming and revitalizing rural America,” she said. “John Edwards believes in the importance of the Iowa caucus and he also believes that Iowans should have the opportunity to hear from and question presidential candidates right here in our own communities. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, Elizabeth and John Edwards.”

The couple shook hands and greeted guests as they entered the town hall meeting. Elizabeth told the crowd it was great to be back in Clinton as she has fond memories of the last time here for a talk at the Democratic Hall in 2004. She said that after the talk, she learned her husband had a surge in the polls.

“So I have very fond memories of a very muddy parking lot in front of the Democratic Hall,” said Elizabeth.

She said it’s really great to be back in Iowa, because Iowans take their responsibilities really seriously, understand where the candidates are on the issues and make sure that the rest of the country makes an informed decision on the caucus night. She noted that on that night, Iowans make it known who they think has the best issue positions, who is electable and who has the vision to be the next president.

“I have enormous confidence in the process because I know that the guy standing next to me can answer all those questions and meet those criteria,” she said.

Elizabeth Edwards garnered a resounding laugh from the crowd when she introduced John Edwards as “my well-coifed husband.”

John Edwards took the center of the room and said he was glad to be back, thanked the audience for attending, and noted that Voluntary Edwards Campaign Chair for Clinton County Highland Nichols is a “great advocate” for the community. Edwards said he would speak for a few minutes about his plans for health care reform and then take questions from the audience. He then touted his recently released Universal Health Care Plan.

“I think our health care system is broken, it doesn’t work, and we need a health care system that works. I think it should be universal. It should cover every man, woman and child in this country,” he said.

Edwards said his plan would take on insurance companies and cap what they can make in profits, use the power of the government to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs with drug companies and allow for the importation of drugs from Canada and keep from issuing patents for breakthrough medicines to provide for greater production and distribution of life-changing drugs. He added the health care system could be made more efficient by making technology available to doctors in the form of electronic record keeping and offering coordinated care through local health care providers.

He then took questions from the audience, the first from Councilman Bob Soesbe, who told Edwards that the American Association of Retired Persons began a campaign for economic security entitled “Divided We Fall.” Edwards said he agreed with providing economic security for all Americans, saying he would advocate for a living wage, strengthened rights for unions in the workplace and making the same rules regarding pensions apply to every employee from the CEO to its lowest paid worker. He added he would favor lifting the cap on the payroll tax that protects the earnings of the wealthy.

He was asked what he would do to alleviate the nursing shortage in America. Edwards said he would push for working standards to help reduce the nurse to patient ratio in hospitals and care facilities, as nurses work long hours and are increasingly responsible for more patients. He noted he would advocate expanding the number of slots in nursing schools and providing increased financial aid opportunities for nursing programs.

In regard to a question about other countries’ perceptions of America, Edwards said that the world needs to see America as a country that is good and trying to help people. He said that economic development and education efforts are important and said Americans can make positive changes in the world.

One attendee advised Edwards that if America wins the war, leaders have to be careful not to lose the peace. Edwards replied that America has to provide opportunities in other countries, offering a helping hand and a real chance in the world, noting that many in foreign countries are “sitting on the fence.” He said that if those people are given opportunities to improve their lives, they will have optimism instead of ideological hatred. He commented that President George Bush was incorrect in saying Americans are safer since the Iraq War began.

“Bush says we are safer today and that is dead wrong,” said Edwards. “We are not safer today. We have less allies and more terrorists.”

He remarked that America has an “enormous capacity to do big and important things.”

“But we have to understand that these things are not separate from one another, they’re all entirely connected. The idea that there’s a domestic policy and a foreign policy is a fantasy,” Edwards stated. “What we do here directly affects the rest of the world and what we do in the rest of the world directly affects us at home. We desperately need a president who understands that,” he said.

Regarding America’s dependence on foreign oil, Edwards said creating infrastructure for biofuels is important and remarked that Iowa is ahead of the rest of the country in that aspect. He later advised that Americans need a president who is honest with the country, is “a good and decent human being,” instead of a president who thinks he can do whatever he wants and ignore the law. Edwards also spoke about the importance of taking care of veterans past and present.

“We have to be there for them, we have to stand up for them. They did it for us and we ought to do it for them,” he said.

Following the town hall meeting, Edwards spent time talking with area residents. Afterwards, he said he thinks that coming from a small town helps him relate to Americans in that he understands what their lives are like and how to have free and easy communication.

Clinton resident Derek Grimmell said he was impressed with Edwards’concrete proposals and said he likes his ideas and the way Edwards doesn’t take himself too seriously. Dick Kissack said he was encouraged to see that Edwards wants to listen to people’s concerns and try to answer their questions.