CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Democratic presidential contender John Edwards on Friday challenged his rivals and former Senate colleagues to stand up to President Bush if he vetoes legislation to begin a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
On the day after their primary debate, the Democratic candidates appealed directly to South Carolina voters, hitting various campaign events around the state that holds the first Southern primary on Jan. 29.
Front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was speaking at a black church in Greenville, S.C. Sen. Barack Obama planned to hold a town-hall meeting in Charleston, S.C. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd had scheduled various stops.
Most of the Democrats planned to attend a state party dinner and end the day at Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn's fish fry.
Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq - a decision for which he has apologized. On Friday, he pressed his rivals in the Senate to take on the president on the war.
"We had a bunch of members of the United States Congress on stage. What are they going to do?" he said the morning after the debate. "What they ought to do is send him another bill with a timetable. If he vetoes that, they should send him another bill with a timetable. They should not back down from this president because this is not about politics. It's about life and death and war."
The Democratic candidates in the Senate - Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Joe Biden - all voted for legislation Thursday that requires the beginning of a troop withdrawal from Iraq by Oct. 1. The legislation sets a goal of a complete withdrawal by April 1, 2008.
Bush reiterated Friday that he would veto the measure.
Without mentioning names, Edwards also took swipe at the debate ground rules and Obama, who tried to explain details of his health care plan within the 60-second limit for answers.
"There was no opportunity to raise questions about anything anyone else said. You can get away with rhetoric in that environment," he said. "It's not enough to say we need universal health care and two or three broad generalities. That's not a specific health care plan."
Eight Democrats are vying for the party nomination, but Edwards argued that the race for the nomination boils down to Clinton, Obama and himself.
"At this point, it's a just a function of how much publicity everybody is getting," Edwards said. "I think it's a three-person, very competitive race."