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Edwards formally launches presidential campaign

Slams Bush as champion of the privileged

Sen. John Edwards waves to supporters Tuesday as he arrives for a rally in Robbins, North Carolina.
Sen. John Edwards waves to supporters Tuesday as he arrives for a rally in Robbins, North Carolina.

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John Edwards
Presidential Election

ROBBINS, North Carolina (CNN) -- Stressing his small-town roots and modest upbringing, Democrat John Edwards on Tuesday formally launched his presidential campaign in front of the North Carolina textile mill where his father once worked.

The carefully staged rally comes eight months after Edwards, a millionaire trial lawyer who is in his first term as U.S. senator from North Carolina, announced that he formed an exploratory committee and that he was seeking his party's nomination for president.

During that time Edwards, 50, has struggled to get ahead in the polls, often overshadowed by eight other Democrats in the field. That field is likely to grow to 10 with retired Gen. Wesley Clark's expected announcement Wednesday that he is throwing his hat in the ring.

In comments that harkened back to his January announcement, Edwards cast himself as a champion of working Americans and depicted President Bush as an advocate for the wealthy and privileged.

"We deserve a president who's close to our people, not close to the lobbyists," Edwards said. He repeatedly slammed Bush as beholden to and a member of an "exclusive club."

"George Bush's guiding principle is a twisted reflection of the American bargain," Edwards said. "Instead of opportunity for all, special privileges for none, he's given us, opportunity for all the special interests."

Some of the political thunder for Edwards' speech was stolen by other events -- the wild gubernatorial recall race in California, where a federal appeals panel has put a halt to the October 7 election, and the news that Clark would also join the Democratic presidential field.

Edwards made no mention of his Democratic rivals in his speech. Instead, he focused his attention on Bush, saying the president has looked out for the interests of the rich -- in areas such as tax cuts -- at the expense of the middle class. And he took several shots at Bush's background, as the son of a president.

"I believe in an America where the family you're born into never controls your destiny," Edwards said.

Tackling head-on his career -- something some Republicans have made an issue of -- Edwards touted his credential as a trial lawyer, saying he had taken on HMOs and insurance companies in medical lawsuits. He vowed to bring the same passion to the White House.

He said that every child in the country should be guaranteed health care as a matter of law and that more help should be provided so that all young adults could attend college.

On homeland security, he said Bush has failed to provide firefighters and police officers across the country with adequate resources and equipment in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And he said the administration has not done enough to secure the nation's ports, border or major facilities, such as nuclear plants.

Edwards also called for the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency to help in the war against terror. At the same time, he criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying he was stripping away privacy rights for ordinary Americans in the war on terrorism.

On the international front, Edwards vowed to work more closely with other countries, suggesting Bush had alienated allies in the process.

"We are all in this together and we can never, ever forget it," Edwards said.

Edwards was headed to Columbia, South Carolina -- a key state in the primary calendar -- after his speech for another rally.

Written by Producer Sean Loughlin in Washington.

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