Greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, John Edwards (search) kicked off a farewell tour as U.S. senator Monday but left little doubt he wasn't saying goodbye to politics.

"One thing you can count on is that this fight is not over," the former vice presidential candidate told supporters. The visit to western North Carolina's largest city was the first of six stops Edwards plans across the state over three days.

"It's just good to be home," Edwards said after arriving more than an hour late for the rally. "My blood pressure goes down when I cross the line into North Carolina."

Edwards, 51, had given up a bid for a second Senate seat when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination himself, before becoming John Kerry's running mate. He will leave the Senate in early January. Republican Richard Burr (search) won the election for Edwards' seat earlier this month, defeating Democrat Erskine Bowles.

Edwards said his upbringing in tiny Robbins prepared him for a role on the national political stage. But for now, he said, his top priority is the health of his wife, Elizabeth, who is being treated for breast cancer (search).

In an interview before the farewell tour began, Edwards said Democrats need to be sure that voters understand their party shares the same values as the people Edwards grew up with in the Carolinas.

"In order for us to unite the country ... those voters have to believe that our values — my values and the values of other Democratic leaders — are the same values they believe in. That means we have to be touching them, reaching out to them."

Edwards said he will continue to give speeches around the country and may publish another book. He also plans to build a new home near Chapel Hill. And even without a forum in the Senate, he plans to keep a high profile.

"I have to sort my way through all of that stuff and figure out what makes the most sense and what's the best way to fight for these things I care about," he said.