MEMPHIS, Tenn. — John Edwards said Wednesday the race for the Democratic presidential nomination had essentially turned into a two-man contest between himself and front-runner John Kerry.
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“And I’ll let General (Wesley) Clark argue for whether he should be No. 3,” Edwards told reporters after a rally in Memphis. Edwards won the South Carolina primary on Tuesday by a wide margin while Clark edged by him to win the Oklahoma primary.
Unfazed by Kerry’s lead in primary victories and delegates to nominate a Democrat for president, Edwards said his South Carolina victory would not push him to attack the front-runner, only point out their differences.
“There’s no attack in my strategy, I can tell you that. What got me to this place ... was a positive message with new, fresh ideas about how we make this country work for everybody,” Edwards told “American Morning” on CNN. “When people ask me directly about Senator Kerry and myself, I’ll answer those questions, as I’m sure he will.”
Edwards said he would focus on his goals as president rather than his opponents as he campaigns in Tennessee and Virginia, two Southern states with primaries Feb. 10. Although Edwards and rival Wesley Clark both won primaries Tuesday, they lagged far behind Kerry, who has won seven elections and has more than twice the number of delegates than either Edwards or his other major opponent, Howard Dean.
Edwards, a North Carolina senator, is hoping his strong win in his native South Carolina will help build momentum and interest in his candidacy outside the South. Yet he plans to spend most of his time in Tennessee and Virginia even though Michigan and Washington hold elections on Saturday and Maine Democrats caucus on Sunday.
Discussing his victory with reporters, Edwards said Wednesday: “This is a very fluid race. It looks like it’s narrowing down to two, or maybe three, candidates. ... A month ago, everyone was saying Governor Dean would be the nominee. That appears to have changed dramatically.”
Edwards was to take time out Wednesday to appear on CBS’ David Letterman show. He was expected to campaign briefly this week in Michigan, which holds its Democratic caucus on Saturday.
Slideshow: On the campaign trail The millionaire trial lawyer, who touts his humble origins as the son of a textile mill worker, credited his “positive message” for his South Carolina victory. He said Tuesday night his strategy “will work everywhere in the country.”
Still, Edwards’ advisers said they recognized it would take a lot of work to slow Kerry’s drive. They were eager to vanquish Clark to trim the contest to a two-man race.
Edward’s campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, said that even if Edwards didn’t score well in Michigan’s contest on Saturday, he expected to add to his delegate total there. Tennessee and Virginia are the next “targets of opportunity,” Turlington said. New TV ads are going to go on the air in both states on Wednesday, campaign officials said.
But Turlington said that the campaign also is looking farther down the road and was beefing up its “infrastructure” in Wisconsin, which has a Feb. 17 primary, and in New York and Ohio.
Diversity helps Edwards
Edwards was helped in South Carolina by a diverse set of voters, scoring particularly well among whites, older people, those with less education and voters who describe themselves as moderate or conservative. He split the black vote with Kerry.
Edwards’ Southern roots appear to have helped him. Just one in 10 voters said in exit polls that the most important quality in a candidate was that “he understands South Carolina,” but Edwards took some 80 percent of those votes.
But Edwards did poorly among those who most valued electability. Among voters who said the ability to beat President Bush was most important, twice as many picked Kerry.
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