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John Edwards: working-class values and a closely held faith

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At a recent campaign stop, he went so far as to suggest that politicians should stay out of matters – like abortion – that were properly between an individual and their spiritual beliefs.

"Nobody made me God about this," he said at a rally in Wolfeboro, N.H., last month, after a question from the antiabortion director of a local Catholic group. "Because nobody made me God about it, I don't believe it's right for government to tell women what to do."

His reluctance to mix religion and politics is also a product of political considerations. Edwards has said that if Democrats stung by electoral losses suddenly start talking religion on the stump, they risk charges of opportunism and insincerity.

"People are naturally skeptical of any politician who talks at length and openly about their faith, because they assume, just like with a lot of things, that they do it for political gain," Edwards told the Monitor.

Uplifting blue-collar Americans

Edwards is far more at ease – to the point of overkill, some critics have said – talking about a more earthly source of his values: his mill-town childhood in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The son of a factory worker and a rural letter carrier, Edwards was the first person in his family to go to college. He has portrayed his rise from millworker's son to millionaire lawyer and US senator as proof that anyone can succeed if hurdles like poverty, bad schools, and inadequate health insurance are swept out of the way.

"I am still optimistic that America can be a country where anyone who works hard is able to get ahead and create a good life for their family," he said in an antipoverty speech in New Hampshire in March. "I am optimistic we can do these things because my own life says it is possible."

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