Local Politics

Edwards Stumps in Native S.C., Faces Uphill Climb

Posted January 9, 2008 1:41 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2008 9:16 p.m. EST

— Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards returned "home" Wednesday, appearing at a Clemson University rally to re-energize supporters after his third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.

Students presented Edwards, who was born in a mill village in nearby Seneca and attended Clemson for a year before transferring to North Carolina State University, with an orange Clemson Tigers jersey with his name and the numeral 1 on the back.

“I'll never forget where I come from,” Edwards said, telling the crowd how happy he was to be back in the South.

Polls place Edwards a distant third in South Carolina behind Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Clinton captured the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, followed by Obama and Edwards. Obama topped Edwards in Iowa last week, with Clinton finishing third.

Despite his two losses, Edwards said he intended to remain in the race and work to capture the Democratic nomination. He exhorted the college students to get involved in the election and to help him win the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary as he did in his 2004 campaign.

"There are 48 states left to go, and your voice is going to be heard," he said.

Clemson political science professor Bruce Ransom said South Carolina is a must-win situation for Edwards.

"Regardless of what he says about going the distance, it's a do or die. He has to have a victory," Ransom said. "South Carolina should be the best place for him to make that inroad, and if it doesn't happen here, then you have to say, 'Where can it happen?'"

Although Edwards discounted the do-or-die talk, he called South Carolina "enormously important" to his campaign.

"It's the first time we've had a primary in the South. It's the first time we've had a primary with a large African-American population," he said. "I'm making certain that voters in the African-American community know what it is I want to do – to create jobs (and) universal health care, to make sure people know we're lifting families out of poverty.

"No one has been more vocal about the two Americas and creating one America than I have."

The African-American community helped Edwards win in South Carolina four years ago, but Ransom said he doesn't have that same support this time around.

"The door is open, but the challenge is still there of having to connect, having to resonate. We'll see, but he's at a disadvantage," Ransom said.

Edwards told the crowd at Clemson about his grandparents' and his father's working in textile mills across the region for years so that he could have a better life.

"They did it so that they left this country that they loved so much better than they found it," he said. "That is the great responsibility that all of us have, to our children, to our grandchildren, to ensure that we leave them a better life than we had.

"We have work to meet that responsibility."

Edwards related stories of struggling middle-class families, homeless veterans, children growing up hungry and a West Virginia man who couldn't speak for 50 years because he was uninsured and couldn't afford an operation to repair his cleft palate.

"The United States of America is better than this," he said. "We have to give voice to all those in this country who have no voice, to the millions of Americans ... whose voices are being drowned out by lobbyists in Washington, by big-money interests in Washington."

The campaign centers on reaching out to the middle class. Skeptics said the successful lawyer's strategy is phony, but others called his life story inspirational.

"I think there's two ways you can look at it. Maybe he's disconnected from the way he grew up because he's a multimillionaire now, but on the other hand, you can look at it and say, 'He's really doing it,'" Clemson student Matt McAllister said.

Edwards attended a second rally Wednesday evening in Columbia and planned to volunteer at a Charleston food bank on Thursday.

His parents didn't make the trip to South Carolina with him. Campaign officials said they were exhausted after campaigning in New Hampshire in recent days.