John Edwards won the state he always knew he had to win on Tuesday and said his strategy “will work everywhere in the country,” as he turned his attention to the Democratic contests ahead.
The victor in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary was flying next to Memphis, Tenn., and planned to campaign in Tennessee and Virginia over the next two days, with a little time out in New York to do a "Top 10" list on the “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS.
Edwards had said all along that South Carolina was a must-win state for him. Had he lost in the state of his birth, he would have dropped out. Tuesday’s decisive victory gives him momentum.
Ahead are two more southern primaries — Virginia and Tennessee next Tuesday.
Next: Virginia, Tennessee
“We won South Carolina in a resounding fashion and won both the African-American and white vote in South Carolina, and we go from here to other states — Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee,” Edwards told The Associated Press. “It’s very easy to lay out the map to get us to the nomination.”
“I think tonight I proved that I can win the White House and change the country in a way that strengthens the millions of middle-class families that Bush has forgotten, and lift up the 35 million Americans who live in poverty,” he said.
Edwards campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, said the North Carolina senator’s victory had “national significance” because all candidates had campaigned in South Carolina.
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.
Building 'infrastructure' in Wisc.
But Turlington said that the campaign also is looking further down the road, and was beefing up its “infrastructure” in Wisconsin, which has a Feb. 17 primary as well as in New York and Ohio.
Wisconsin is “a place where his message resonates well,” said Turlington. “John proved in Iowa that he can compete in other parts of the country.”
Nearly half of South Carolina voters said the economy was their most important issue, exit polls show, and Edwards dominated this group, winning twice as many of their votes as Kerry did.
Edwards was helped 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 Sen. John Kerry, despite a high-profile Kerry endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn.
Edwards’ Southern roots appear to have helped him. Just one in 10 voters said the most important quality in a candidate was that “he understands South Carolina,” but Edwards took some 80 percent of those votes.
Hampered on electability issue
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.
Even though the win count is lopsided, Edwards still was intent on turning it into a horserace.
Earlier Tuesday, Edwards said, “It’s not a matter of catching up. We have a long nominating process.”
Edwards has always presented himself as the candidate who can win everywhere, an indirect slap at the candidates from the Northeast who claimed the early attention, Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Edwards was not focusing on Saturday’s contests in Michigan and Washington state, instead putting most of his focus on Virginia and Tennessee. Both states border on North Carolina.
There he will make his stand. But it was a risky strategy. Polls show Kerry with a slight lead in Tennessee, and analysts suggested he’s the early favorite in Virginia as well.
Edwards said the South Carolina race had been “a head-to-head contest” between him and Kerry “on who can compete in the South, who can win rural voters and who can do well with African American voters.”
Edwards spent much of his time campaigning in South Carolina, and emphasized both his roots in the area, and the area’s trade-devastated job losses, among the worst in the nation.
He blamed the job losses on trade liberalization policies supported by Bush — and voted for by Kerry.
Edwards made a major effort to court black votes, devoting a large portion of his stump speech to civil rights. Some of the black vote was divided.