Monday, February 2, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York yesterday made pitches to black voters here and throughout South Carolina, while the five other Democratic White House hopefuls campaigned in the North and the Southwest.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Sharpton attended large black churches for Sunday services, while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean acknowledged campaign blunders and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts braved the cold of North Dakota.

Also yesterday, Mr. Edwards — who leads in surveys here, but trails Mr. Kerry in nationwide polling — categorically rejected the possibility of becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate.

“I will say no,” Mr. Edwards said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“To bring the change that I believe needs to be brought to this country … I need to be president of the United States. That’s what this is about for me,” he said.

The North Carolina senator spent yesterday here in his birth state, attending Sunday morning service at the 6,000-member Bibleway Church in Columbia.

Not being a minister, Mr. Edwards could only speak to congregants in the auditorium after the sermon, but he won the approval of the congregation’s minister.

“You make your own decision, you make your own choice, but I’ll tell you who I like, and that is Senator John Edwards,” the Rev. Darrell Jackson told his flock before giving the sermon.

Mr. Sharpton has an advantage on Mr. Edwards at the churches because, as an ordained Pentecostal minister, he can take the pulpit as a guest speaker.

“Don’t let them take you for granted,” Mr. Sharpton shouted to the congregation at Carpenterville Baptist Church in North Augusta.

South Carolina, where black voters make up from 40 percent to 50 percent of the Democratic electorate, is the first state where Democratic candidates will test their message before a large minority population, in the primary tomorrow.

Arizona, Delaware, Missouri and Oklahoma also are holding presidential primaries tomorrow, and Democrats in New Mexico and North Dakota are having their caucuses.

In an acknowledgement of likely defeat tomorrow, Mr. Dean said yesterday that he was looking past those races and toward Saturday caucuses in Michigan and Washington state and the Wisconsin primary 10 days later.

“We probably won’t win someplace by Feb. 3, with the possible exception of New Mexico,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Dean also said he committed a major strategic error in spending most of the $41 million his campaign raised last year in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he finished third and second after leading in polls for months. He said his front-running campaign hoped to secure a quick overall victory by sweeping the early contests.

“We took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off,” Mr. Dean said.

In South Carolina’s black churches yesterday, many said they were still undecided but leaning toward Mr. Edwards.

“I think I’ll go with Edwards. He seems to be what we need on jobs and access to wealth building, from what I’ve seen and heard,” said Eric Hurst, 34, who works in a Charleston hotel.

Also at Bibleway, Princess Salley, an 18-year-old high school senior voting for the first time, said she also is leaning to Mr. Edwards, but is “still undecided.”

She said Mr. Edwards’ ideas to combat segregation and unequal distribution of resources in schools are things she knows of firsthand, and something she said the other candidates haven’t seemed to understand.

“I know Wesley Clark is from the South, too, but I didn’t hear him say the same things Mr. Edwards talked about,” she said.

A Zogby poll released Friday showed Mr. Edwards leading the pack with 26 percent, ahead of Mr. Kerry’s 22 percent, with Mr. Dean a distant third place with 9 percent and Mr. Clark at 8 percent. Mr. Sharpton is tied with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut at 5 percent. A large share of the respondents — 22 percent — said they remained undecided.

However, over the weekend, Mr. Edwards may have closed the deal with black voters.

“I think up until last weekend a lot of blacks in South Carolina were unsure,” said the Rev. Curtis Hamilton, an associate pastor for Bibleway.

Mr. Hamilton, 54, said as the candidates have spent more time in the state, Mr. Edwards, “a native son, has inspired trust, where the others have not.”

In North Dakota, Mr. Kerry said the Bush administration’s higher cost estimates for its prescription-drug program was an “incredible cave-in” to give almost $140 billion to drug companies at taxpayers’ expense.

The 10-year benefit is now expected to cost $534 billion — one-third higher than the $395 billion figure from the Congressional Budget Office that Republicans cited in pushing the legislation through Congress in November.

“We learned that in their incredible cave-in to the powerful interests of the drug companies of America, they dunned the taxpayers of our nation $139 billion extra so they can line the pockets of people who contributed to their campaign,” Mr. Kerry told an audience of about 600 people in Fargo, N.D. “He thought you wouldn’t notice what’s happening.”

Polls give him a 2-1 lead in the Northern state, though they also show that as many as 40 percent of likely voters have yet to make up their mind.

While campaigning yesterday at a black church in Delaware, Mr. Lieberman touted endorsements yesterday from two newspapers in South Carolina — the Columbia State and the Greenville News — and from the Seattle Times.

Mr. Lieberman has campaigned most vigorously in Delaware, Oklahoma and South Carolina, hoping to keep alive his campaign with a victory.

“What this says is that I have national support,” Mr. Lieberman told reporters after talking with about 300 members of the New Destiny Fellowship in Wilmington, Del. “I’m the Democrat who can bring people together and win the election and actually get something done.”

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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