- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. John Edwards campaigned himself hoarse yesterday in the final day before today’s Democratic primary here, which he has said he must win to remain in the race.

“I’ve been giving too many speeches,” he whispered after he mounted a gymnasium stage here to give his third speech of the day.

Polls show Mr. Edwards with a comfortable lead over Sen. John Kerry, who remains unbeaten and is expected to win most of the seven state contests being held today nationwide. The Rev. Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark, a retired Army general who had been expected to do well in South Carolina, trail badly in the polls.

Mr. Edwards, a freshman senator from North Carolina, hopes to post the first and only victory against Mr. Kerry today. If he succeeds, the race for the Democratic nomination could come down to Mr. Kerry, the longtime senator from Massachusetts, and Mr. Edwards, a Southerner who is relatively new to Washington and politics.

Despite his comfortable lead in the polls here, Mr. Edwards has in recent days attacked his Democratic rivals, accusing them of running negative campaigns against one another.

“Let me be very clear about this,” he told the crowd at Allen University. “If you’re looking for the candidate who will do the best job of attacking the other Democrats, that’s not me.”

“I believe this election is bigger than that,” the accomplished trial lawyer said. “This election is about the future of our country.”

Mr. Edwards has pounded away with his populist divide-and-conquer message here, telling audiences that they live in the shabbier of two Americas, one for the rich and the other for the rest.

The message seemed to appeal to the crowd of students who had gathered to hear him speak yesterday at Allen University, a historically black college.

Behind him on stage was Harvey Gantt, the first black student to enroll at Clemson University and the first black mayor of Charlotte, N.C. Mr. Gantt, a Democrat, ran two unsuccessful Senate campaigns against then Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.

Mr. Edwards noted recent discussions about “where in America and in front of what audiences we should talk about race and the quality of civil rights.”

“Well, I’ve just come from Iowa, New Hampshire, and now in South Carolina,” he said to building applause. “I’ll tell you where we should talk about it: everywhere.”

Polls suggest that Mr. Edwards has drawn many black voters — who make up nearly half of Democratic voters here — away from Mr. Sharpton, the black activist from New York who has campaigned heavily here.

Joseph Tucker, a junior at Allen, said he likes Mr. Sharpton, but will vote for Mr. Edwards.

“I know Al’s purpose in this race,” he said. “He just wants to jumble things up.”

Buoyed by a Gallup poll showing Mr. Edwards with a one-point edge in a match-up against President Bush, the senator promised the crowd that he would not cede conservative Southern states to Republicans.

“The South is not George Bush’s back yard,” he screamed. “It is my back yard.”

But, Mr. Edwards warned voters in the audience, he couldn’t succeed unless they voted for him today.

“I can’t change this country by myself,” he said. “We have to do it together.”

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