CANTON, N.C. – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) on Sunday viewed the flood damage Hurricane Frances (search) caused in his home state, a Republican-leaning one the Democratic ticket hopes to win on Nov. 2.
"This is in no way a political issue," Edwards told congregants at First Baptist Church of Canton, which is leading cleanup efforts. "We will do everything we can to help the businesses that have been hit."
Edwards, who represents North Carolina in the Senate, promised to fight for federal assistance for families who are "struggling and suffering."
The trip was added to the senator's itinerary on Saturday, a day after President Bush (search) declared 15 western counties disaster areas. Edwards also was meeting with labor leaders in Detroit on Sunday, the start of a five-day, cross-country campaign swing.
Low-lying parts of western North Carolina were devastated last week by wind and rain from Hurricane Frances. State officials have pegged the losses at more than $9 million.
Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, walked down a mud-splattered, debris-strewn street in the business district, chatting with cleanup crews, small-business owners and workers from Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc., (search) which employs 1,300. The mill, on the banks of a river, has been closed for five days and remains inoperable even though the water has receded.
"Shut down, down?" Edwards asked Mayor Pat Smathers and some mill workers. "We've got to do something about that."
At church, Edwards reminded the worshippers and potential voters that he shares their background, saying: "I know what it means to the community when the mill is closed down and the people aren't working."