In the three-day blitz launching his 2008 presidential campaign, John Edwards has prodded enthusiastic crowds to get active.

“We cannot stay at home and wait for the next election. The power is not with the politicians in Washington, the power is with you,” he told nearly 1,000 people gathered in the convention hall of a Reno casino Friday.

Still in the first blush of presidential courtship, Nevada Democrats welcomed the former North Carolina senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate with a standing-room-only crowd and pointed questions about the deficit, immigration and the war in Iraq.

Reno was the fourth stop on Edwards’ six-state tour announcing his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. His next stop Saturday was Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., one of the largest black churches in the state. He was wrapping up his tour Saturday evening with a a rally in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Edwards is the third Democrat to formally make a bid for the nomination, and the early announcement is an attempt to build grass-roots organization in key early contests.

Nevada is new to that category, recently having won a No. 2 spot — between Iowa and New Hampshire — on the Democrats’ nomination calendar. Democrats hope the move will give more minority and union voters a say.

Edwards’ “town hall” Friday night was his eighth Nevada visit since the 2004 election, his sixth this year.

He called for universal health care and said his health plan, along with anti-poverty efforts, would take priority over deficit reduction if he was elected.

He called for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops in Iraq and said his vote authorizing the president to go to war was a “mistake.”

His call for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants won tepid applause, and one loud boo. His proposal to require those immigrants to learn English was cheered.

Besides Edwards, only Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich have formally announced they are seeking the Democratic nomination. But early buzz around the possible candidacies of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has so far kept Edwards off a short list of front-runners.

Paul Fleming, a 23-year-old music teacher in Reno, said though he was drawn to Obama as a new face, he was willing to take a look at Edwards — again.

“A vice president in an election is just a figurehead,” Fleming said. “I didn’t really hear him talk much last time.”

State GOP chairman Paul Adams dismissed the former senator as a has-been.

“When all is said and done, Nevada has already rejected Edwards once, it will do it again,” Adams said.

Other potential Democratic candidates include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 nominee. Former Vice President Al Gore has said he has no plans to enter the race, but he has been careful not to completely rule out a bid.

Edwards appearance in Portsmouth, N.H., earlier Friday drew about 800 people, about half the number who came out to see Obama on his first trip to the state.

Edwards said the turnout showed he still had lots of friends in New Hampshire. Many stood in line for more than an hour only to be turned away because there was no room.

Asked his view on gay marriage, Edwards called the issue “the single hardest social issue for me personally.”

“Civil unions? Yes. Partnership benefits? Yes,” he said. “But it’s a jump for me to get to gay marriage. I haven’t yet got across that bridge.”

“I wish I knew the right answer,” he said after one audience member booed.


Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Portsmouth, N. H. contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press