Edwards says S.C. primary remains unpredictable

January 11, 2008 6:09:15 PM PST
Presidential candidate John Edwards said Friday he feels "at peace" campaigning in his native South Carolina, though he acknowledges that how Democratic primary voters will receive his populist message remains anyone's guess. "It's just unpredictable who will vote, what they'll be focused on," Edwards told The Associated Press after taking questions at a town hall meeting. "As long as I make it clear that I'm fighting for middle-class families and against entrenched money interests, I think I will run very strong here."

Confidence in his campaign comes in spite of Democratic rivals who have overshadowed Edwards in the Iowa caucuses, won by Sen. Barack Obama, and the New Hampshire primary, won by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Edwards placed second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire.

The former North Carolina senator - he was born in Seneca, S.C., and raised in Robbins, N.C. - was on a four-day road trip around his native state. The Democratic primary on Jan. 26 is a critical test of his strength in the South, especially given that he won here in 2004. Yet for months statewide polls have shown Clinton and Obama battling for the top spot.

"I'm very much at peace," Edwards said. "I think the fact I did as well as I did in Iowa and New Hampshire against two candidates who had well over a million dollars leaves me very confident and very optimistic."

Edwards repeated his post-New Hampshire pledge not to bow out of the race for the nomination.

"I'm in this for the long haul. I will be in it through the convention and to the White House and so I have a very long view about this," he said. "I intend to be the nominee."

Edwards said he relishes campaigning again in South Carolina, where he strives to push a populist message that focuses in large part on his family's roots in the state's flagging textile industry. Both Edwards' father and grandfather worked in mills.

"What this race is about and what this election is about is standing up and fighting for the middle class," Edwards told about 100 people gathered at a hotel near the coast. "The question is: Will we have a president of the United States who first understands what's happening in South Carolina and across the United States of America?"

The campaign began running a new television ad in which he says he's not running for president because of the advice of political consultants or what he's read in books. He says he's running because mill workers are just as important as the people who own the mills.

Edwards warned at the town hall meeting that, according to some estimates, the nation could lose 30 million jobs in the next decade. He reminded the audience of his personal ties to the textile industry as well as how the closing of mills devastated small-town economies.

"It's not academic and it's not philosophical," he told the crowd. "It's very, very personal."