ROBBINS - Pledging to "make opportunity the birthright of every American," U.S. Sen. John Edwards made his presidential bid official this morning during a ceremony outside a shuttered textile mill in this small town where he grew up.
"America deserves a president who understands the people of this country, works for the people of this country and will stop at nothing to create opportunity for all the people of this country," Edwards told more than 1,000 supporters, many of whom had been bused in from across North Carolina. Edwards has been running for president since January, but made-for-TV official announcement was intended to focus new attention on his campaign, at a critical juncture. While he has been enthusiastically received in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states, Edwards remains in the single digits in polls from both states.
Edwards used his half-hour speech, broadcast live on C-SPAN, to highlight initiatives to expand access to college, offer new tax breaks for the middle-class and lure new jobs to ailing areas.
The event also emphasized Edwards' roots and the values he said he would bring from Robbins to the White House.
"I come home to stand in the shadow of the mill where my father worked, where I worked and where I learned the value of a hard day's work," Edwards said.
"This is where I learned that the simple promise of America is the enduring greatness of America: a better life for all who work for it. And so this is where - today - to make opportunity the birthright of every American, I declare myself a candidate for the president of the United States."
Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt presided over the ceremony, which also featured speeches from Gov. Mike Easley and former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, as well as marching bands from N.C. Central University and North Moore High School.
Hunt said "we are bursting with pride that one of our own is beginning the journey right here in the middle of this great state."
From Robbins, Edwards is scheduled to travel to Columbia, S.C., for an afternoon rally on the campus of the University of South Carolina. South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary on Feb. 3, just a week after New Hampshire, is considered a must-win state for Edwards.
In a recent poll from South Carolina, he was in a statistical dead heat with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Edwards is scheduled to end his day in Atlanta, where he will raise money.