ROBBINS, N.C. — John Edwards' childhood in North Carolina is a big part of his campaign message.
He grew up in a mill town in Moore County, and he often refers to it in speeches.
But, the senator's hometown seems a long way from his presidential ambitions.
"I come from the same place that most Americans come from," Edwards said during a debate Sunday in New York. "I am running for president of the United States so that millions of Americans get the same chances that I've had."
Edwards comes from Robbins, an old mill town where all the mills are closed.
Since the late 80s, at least half a dozen plants have shut down in Robbins, most of them textile plants. About 1,500 jobs have been lost.
"All the textile people have gone bankrupt," former Robbins Mayor John Frye said.
Some 1,200 people live in Robbins, including Edwards' parents.
Frye, mayor of Robbins for 26 years, said there are 10 acres of empty factory space. He said 25 percent of the houses in Robbins are empty.
"I have lived with this my entire life," Edwards said during Sunday's debate. "I have seen the effect, not just on the economy, but on the families who are involved."
Edwards embraces his image as a hometown boy. But his past also leads to a paradox.
"You have a $4 million house in Georgetown," a CBS interviewer told Edwards during the debate, "a $1 million beach house in North Carolina, a $1 million home in Raleigh. Do you think your supporters know that you live this way?"
Said Edwards: "I grew up in a family where my father worked in the mill. It did not make me different than most people in this country."
But skeptics said Edwards is different than most and that his roots may be both his appeal and his undoing.
That's because the story of John Edwards is one of rags to riches.