MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Edwards brought his campaign for president to Alabama Tuesday night looking for southern votes and money.
Edwards raised more than $100,000 at a fund raising reception attended by four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, who was in Montgomery to play in a celebrity golf tournament to benefit the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation.
Former Alabama Lt. Gay. Jere Beasley said the $100,000 was raised before the start of the reception, hosted by Montgomery grocery chain owner Greg Calhoun, who also handles marketing for Holyfield.
Edwards said he hopes the Alabama Legislature passes a bill that would move the state’s presidential preference primary from June to the first Tuesday in February, one week after the New Hampshire primary. The Alabama primary is the last in the nation and is held after the party presidential races have long been decided.
“I think that’s a terrific idea. The South needs to have a strong voice in this election,” Edwards told reporters as he entered the private reception at Calhoun’s home in a posh suburban neighborhood.
Edwards, who spoke to reporters briefly outside the reception, said he believes his message plays well in the south.
“I’ve been traveling all over the nation talking about the values of hard work and taking responsibility,” Edwards said. “I grew up on good southern values.”
It was another Southerner, Holyfield, who helped draw more than 200 people, including some of the state’s top Democratic officials, to the reception.
Holyfield said he has not decided who he will support in next year’s presidential election, but came to the reception to meet Edwards.
“I’m going to meet him tonight and then if he’s elected president I can say I met him before he became president,” Holyfield said.
But Holyfield said he’s no stranger to politics after years in the boxing ring.
“Politics is how life goes on. There’s always politics in everything we do,” the former heavyweight champion said.
Holyfield is a native of Atmore in southern Alabama and now lives in Atlanta. He said he never imagined as a poor kid in the south that he would ever be the featured guest at a reception for a presidential candidate.
“As a kid, the idea of being successful was not how many people would come to see you, but being able to eat when you were hungry and having a place to stay,” Holyfield said. “It was not about being famous.”
Calhoun, one of the state’s most successful black businessmen, said he is supporting Edwards because he is “a great candidate.”
“And he was the only one who asked me for my support,” Calhoun said.
Beasley, a prominent Montgomery trial lawyer, said he’s supporting Edwards because “I think he’s the best man in the race and the one that can beat President Bush.”
Alabama Democratic Party executive director Marsha Folsom said she hopes Edwards’ visit, along with a recent visit by another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is a good sign that Alabama will be on the political map during the presidential race.
“By the end of the year, I think we’ll see all the candidates here,” Folsom said. Like Edwards, she said she hopes the Legislature passes the bill moving the state’s primary date.
“It would give the people of Alabama more of a chance to hear from all the candidates,” she said.
The bill changing the primary date has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.