The moderate senator, who made millions as a trial attorney before entering politics five years ago, highlighted his blue-collar roots by making his announcement at the Robbins, N.C., textile mill where his father worked for 36 years. A young John Edwards once had a job there, mopping beneath looms in the weave room.
Edwards used the speech to assail President Bush's record, offer his own biography and address some of the criticism he has faced as a first-term senator.
"I haven't spent most of my life in politics, but I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change it," Edwards told the crowd.
The next stop on Edwards' official kickoff was Columbia, S.C., a must-win state in his strategy to reach the White House. Rather than try to take a win in Iowa and New Hampshire against more seasoned rivals, Edwards was looking for his candidacy to take off with a win in South Carolina. He was banking that voters in the state would be attracted to a fresh-faced moderate with Carolina roots.
"George Bush's guiding principle is a twisted reflection of the American bargain: Instead of 'opportunity for all, special privileges for none,' he's given us 'opportunity for all the special interests,'" Edwards said.
In some ways, Edwards is a presidential candidate in the mold of Bill Clinton: a youthful centrist with Southern charm. But having run for office just once before and served only a single term in the Senate, he doesn't have the resume or the experience of his leading rivals in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Nine candidates have announced, with a tenth, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, telling advisers he will join the race as soon as Wednesday.
In most state and national polls, Edwards draws single-digit support and ranks behind rivals with less funding and organization, such as Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun, despite working for the nomination for more than a year. He was the leading fund-raiser in the Democratic field early this year, but has lost that advantage to insurgent candidate Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor.