John Edwards toured this flood-ravaged mill town in his home state Sunday, meeting with local leaders and business owners and workers hit by last week's flooding from Hurricane Frances.
The visit was recently added to Edwards's campaign schedule, and was the sixth campaign trip Edwards has made here since Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) chose him in July as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
Kerry and Edwards hope to put North Carolina's 15 electoral votes in the Democratic column in November even though the state has voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford.
Edwards's two-hour visit here preceded a week of campaigning in the West and Midwest.
The senator toured the town's main commercial district, within sight of the Blue Ridge Paper Products mill, which employs many residents. Damaged by flooding on the Pigeon River, the mill is closed, and officials said it may not open for some time.
Edwards shook hands with workers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and volunteers helping to dig the town out of flooding damage that left hundreds of roads closed, many businesses shut down and crops ruined. With rolled-up shirt-sleeves, Edwards walked through the muddied main street with Mayor Pat Smathers and Jerry Walker, mayor of nearby Clyde. The area, in the mountainous western part of the state, received nearly 18 inches of rain last week.
The visit came before Edwards's week-long swing through New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. The trip to Canton was added to the itinerary on Friday.
Rains from Frances swelled rivers, with floodwaters cresting on Wednesday. Gov. Mike Easley (D) has requested federal disaster assistance for 15 of the hardest-hit counties.
At First Baptist Church of Canton, Edwards spoke to a congregation of about 150. As Edwards frequently mentions to campaign crowds when he talks about unemployment and his campaign's pledge to improve the plight of workers, he is the son of a mill worker. To the Canton congregants, he said he understood what it means to a mill town when the mill shuts down.
"I know what it means to your community because I've seen it in other parts of North Carolina, when disaster hits," Edwards said, later adding: "There's only so much human beings can do and we're reminded of this when disaster strikes. . . . We rely so heavily on our Lord and Savior."
Edwards had planned to spend much of Sunday in Detroit, where he spoke to the Michigan state AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers. The North Carolina trip delayed his Detroit visit.
Edwards accused President Bush of misleading the country in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and told reporters that Kerry has a "plan to clean up the mess in Iraq that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have created."
His remarks followed comments Sunday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on NBC's "Meet the Press." Powell said there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"From this day forward this administration should never suggest that there is" such a connection, Edwards said before addressing labor leaders at Detroit's Ford Field. "Vice President Cheney should not say the kinds of things that he said Friday and the president should not mislead the American people by implying that there's a connection between the attacks of September 11 and Saddam Hussein."
Bush-Cheney spokesman Kevin Madden said the Kerry campaign is "again resorting to flailing attacks that are baseless. . . . The American public continues to trust the Bush administration, and the Kerry campaign resorts to political attacks that have no merit because John Kerry's positions on national security and terrorism are basically incoherent."
Researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.