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Edwards banking on South Carolina to turn fortunes around

  • Story Highlights
  • John Edwards won 2004 primary in South Carolina, his native state
  • Edwards came in second in Iowa, third in New Hampshire this time around
  • Democrat emphasizing help for middle class as he tours his native state
  • Edwards tells stories of how family members lost mill jobs when he was a boy
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From Dan Lothian
CNN Boston Bureau
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SUMMERVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- Former Sen. John Edwards, a native of South Carolina, is riding a bus across that state to recapture the glory from his 2004 win there and boost his struggling presidential campaign.

Since finishing third in New Hampshire, he's spent more time in South Carolina than any of his Democratic opponents, and as he tours the state, he's telling supporters that his roots give him a unique perspective on their struggles.

"You've watched the mills close, the jobs leave -- it's been devastating for middle-class families. It is something that I take very personally because my grandparents worked in the mills, my dad worked in the mills, right here in South Carolina. And I know what it means when the mill closes and the jobs leave," the Democratic presidential candidate told voters gathered for a town hall meeting in Summerville, South Carolina.

The former North Carolina senator won the South Carolina primary in 2004 but his campaign later stalled.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate and the ticket narrowly lost to President Bush.

Kerry earlier this week endorsed Edwards' Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama at a campaign event in Charleston.

Edwards campaigned extensively in Iowa and finished second in that state's caucuses on January 3, eight points behind Obama and a point ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But he only persuaded 17 percent of New Hampshire Democrats to vote for him and finished 22 points behind Clinton and 20 behind Obama.

Polls in South Carolina show Clinton and Obama battling for first place and Edwards a distant third.

Edwards says no matter what happens here on January 26, he's in the race for the long haul.

"We have plenty of money to run a serious campaign, and I think more important than that, I don't think voters are going to be controlled by money."

Edwards said the election was about "standing up and fighting for the middle class," to help lift people out of poverty and push for universal health care.

"The United States of America is better than this, and our parents and our grandparents struggled and sacrificed so that they can make this country what it is capable of doing," Edwards said. "Now the question is: Will we rise up and show the same kind of grip and fight and strength and determination that they did? The answer is I believe we will."

"It's going to happen as we spread through these primaries, including right here in South Carolina," he added. "I think you are going to stand up and say 'yes.'"

Edwards' message resonated with Darrell Clinton, who describes himself as a staunch Republican who's now putting party politics aside to support Edwards.

"He's a good mainstream politician looking out for the little guys," Clinton said. "So often the guys at the top are taken care of, the guys at the bottom are taken care of, but there's a lot of people in the middle ... hurting."

Edwards was happy to get Clinton's support.

"By the way, all the rest of you need to be telling your friends and neighbors that you're looking at the candidate that can get Republican votes, including here in South Carolina," Edwards said.

While Edwards has made his opposition to the Iraq War a central part of his campaign, he was asked only one question about the war -- by Marine Sgt. Shamus Flynn, who said he wanted troops withdrawn from Iraq as quickly as possible. Edwards promised Flynn that he would "have our combat troops out in the end of my first year in office."

"The problem is not American service men and women, the problem is the Shia and Sunni leadership have made no serious effort, have not reached an agreement," Edwards told Flynn.

"I am not in favor of just pulling the troops out immediately. I don't think that is responsible. I would say to the Sunni and Shia leadership we want you to be together, we want you to try and reach an agreement, and America is going to be leaving to put the pressure on them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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