Dozens of Bowdoin students carpooled to Lewiston Sunday afternoon to see that nice guy who, just last fall, campaigned so much in nearby New Hampshire's key primary.

But keeping with his campaign's recently-emphasized focus on how to best conduct the war on terror, Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards descended into the hot and sweaty Lewiston Armory gymnasium as a political hawk.

Conventional wisdom might have expected Edwards, the son of a mill-worker, to address a mill-town like Lewiston by talking about jobs and healthcare at the town-hall meeting. Instead, the North Carolina Senator served up charged language and harsh criticism of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Distancing himself from the young, smiling, "wavy haired," and inexperienced image the President tried to paint just last week in Bangor, Edwards said within minutes of taking the stage, "When I am your vice president we will find al-Qaida. We will find these terrorists where they are and we will crush them before they can do any harm on America."

In reference to the Bush administration's claims of success in Iraq, Edwards said, "These people are so out of touch with reality. They're living in a fantasy world." Iraq is a "mess" and has now become a "haven" for terrorists, he said.

Bush's recent speech in Bangor concentrated largely on defending the Iraq war, but the Kerry campaign proved it wasn't taking the competitive second district's electoral vote for granted by sending Edwards to the district's largest city on Sunday.

Firing up the tightly-packed crowd of 2,600 were Maine Congressmen Mike Michaud and Tom Allen '67, Governor John Baldacci, and former Governor Angus King, who voted for Bush four years ago. Such a lead-up ended in an uproar when the candidate entered, fist pumping in the air, under an American flag draped beside signs saying "Fighting for us."

Edwards spoke for 25 minutes mostly about Iraq as a "distraction on the war on terror" and underlined the importance of defeating al Qaida.

Responding to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney's recent suggestions that terrorists want John Kerry to win, Edwards said, "This is an effort to exploit one of the greatest tragedies in American history, September 11th, and use it for personal gain."

He said their plan for "winning the peace" in Iraq includes internationalizing the efforts for rebuilding, training Iraqi security forces more effectively, speeding up the reconstruction, and helping Iraqis achieve a viable government through credible elections.

Trying to court the independent vote, Edwards said "great Republican leaders" John McCain, Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel have called Iraq a "mess." Edwards also stressed the need to pass the reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission.

He said the United States has spent "200 billion dollars and counting," and that "we need to bring others into the reconstruction effort so it's not just Halliburton." Bringing the crowd to a standing ovation, Edwards said we need to "restore the image of America."

Edwards also criticized the Bush administration for letting North Korea, Iran and other parts of the former Soviet Union potentially build "loose nukes" and sell them to terrorists. He said John Kerry "will not outsource our national security."

The crowd came to another standing ovation when Edwards echoed an earlier claim by King that "anyone under 35 voting for George W. Bush needs to have their head examined." Edwards said, "Anyone living in the United States who votes for George W. Bush needs to have their head examined."

Moving to the Q and A session, Edwards took a question from Janet Hill of Farmington, who asked what can be done to bring more well-paying jobs to Maine. Edwards said we need to "get rid of the tax cuts for companies sending jobs overseas." There shouldn't be tax incentives for companies that move jobs from Maine to China, he said.

Answering a question about the environment, Edwards said that this administration is "gutting laws to protect our air." Hinting at a potential challenge he might make to Cheney during the Vice Presidential debate in Cleveland October 5, he criticized the Vice President for "writing our energy policy behind closed doors with lobbyists." He also said that the future of "America's economy should rely on our creativity, not the Saudi royal family," whose relationship with Bush is "so unhealthy for this country."

Attempting to lighten up the discussion a little, the former Lewiston Police Chief and his wife, whose 34th anniversary was also Sunday, asked where the Senator thought they should go for dinner. Caught off-guard, he looked to the audience with his palms up for help as they yelled "Wendys!" Edwards and his wife Elizabeth celebrate their anniversary every year with a trip to Wendy's.

Catching the joke rather late, he said, "Ohhh, Weeennnndys."

The last question came from Emma Ambrose, 14, of Poland, Maine, who asked about reinstating the draft. Edwards said he did not believe in reinstating it and elaborated on a way to decrease reliance on reservists and the National Guard.

At the meeting's conclusion, much of the crowd stormed to the front to try to shake hands or even get a picture next to People magazine's former Sexiest Politician of the Year.

Most of the Bowdoin students who attended the event had positive views.

Fariha Mahmud '06 said, "I think he did a good job staying focused on the issues. I feel like the Democrats in general are getting better at confronting attacks and trying to set the record straight." She added, "The Republicans are usually better at strategizing."

After volunteering for the event, Alex Cornell du Houx '06 said, "I was impressed by the turnout, enthusiasm and organization of the rally."

Sue Kim '05 was disappointed to hear the Senator's thoughts on energy security. "He is proposing we sub in different sorts of fossil fuel for oil and that's not right when we should be investing more heavily in wind and solar, which are two really feasible and cost effective options right now."

Gia Upchurch '05, a resident of the Senator's home state of North Carolina, said, "This was the first time that I had been to any kind of political rally before. I thought it was very interesting, a lot more exciting than I had expected."