- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2003

Political observers are wondering which candidate will capture the crucial bloc of Southern, and significantly rural, voters in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary.
"The Southern vote is more up for grabs than people think," said Larry J. Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia and close watcher of Southern voting patterns.
Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Bob Graham of Florida are among those vying to challenge President Bush in 2004. In addition, most of the nine Democratic candidates have been campaigning regularly in South Carolina, home of the nation's third primary. Also, the Al Sharpton of New York is expected to play well in Southern states where black voters can sway Democratic primaries.
History suggests that Democrats cannot capture the White House without winning Southern states. Former Vice President Al Gore would have emerged victorious in the 2000 presidential contest against Mr. Bush had he won just one Southern state, even his home state of Tennessee.
Not since John F. Kennedy has a non-Southern Democrat been able to win the presidency. And only once in the 20th century, Mr. Sabato said, have Democrats been able to win without at least one Southerner on the ticket. That occurred in 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won re-election with Henry Wallace as his running mate.
Before Mr. Graham joined the Democratic presidential primary race in February, most early primary watchers gave Mr. Edwards the edge in winning the Southern vote.
Mr. Edwards hired one of the best-known rural strategists to run his political action committee last year and created a position of National Rural Liaison to reach rural and Southern voters. Making up 20 percent of the Southern electorate, rural voters easily shift the outcomes of races in many Southern states.
But rural strategist Steve Jarding and National Rural Liaison David Saunders left Mr. Edwards' camp recently over "philosophical differences." Both men signed on with Mr. Graham's campaign late Friday.
"He brings the most to the table," Mr. Jarding said. "He not only understands the rural South, he also understands what it takes to be president of the United States."
Mr. Edwards' campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Edwards lost ground in rural areas by losing Mr. Jarding.
"John Edwards did not think rural voters were important because Steve was working for him," he said. "John will naturally do well in those areas because of who he is and what his vision is."
Mr. Jarding also carries with him valuable experience in Virginia, where he ran Mark Warner's successful 2001 campaign for governor. In that campaign, Mr. Jarding, along with Mr. Saunders, employed aggressive rural strategies such as rallying hunters to support Mr. Warner, a Northern Virginia businessman who grew up in Connecticut.
Mr. Warner's campaign championed gun rights in the largely conservative Republican state.
Virginia has taken on increased importance since Democrats there moved their primary date to Feb. 10, making it the first big-state primary in the nation.
"Getting [Mr. Jarding and Mr. Saunders] will really give Graham a chance to compete in Virginia," Mr. Sabato said.

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