- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

CLAREMONT, Calif. — In what might be his last stand against Democratic front-runner John Kerry, long-shot hopeful Sen. John Edwards began a five-city campaign swing through the nation’s largest, most delegate-rich state yesterday.

Mr. Edwards — who is scrambling to collect enough cash to compete in Tuesday’s huge and potentially decisive nomination contest — hopes to transform his largely regional campaign into a winning national one that is capable not only of overtaking Mr. Kerry, but of toppling President Bush in November.

Recent polls, however, suggest his uphill battle is fairly steep.

In a speech to students at Pomona College here yesterday, Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, outlined a plan to “lift 10 million out of poverty.”

He said he often is asked what he will do to win the votes of young people such as those in the crowd.

“I think that is the wrong question,” said Mr. Edwards, sounding reminiscent of President Kennedy. “I think the right question is, what are we going to do together to make this country better.”

For the most part, Mr. Edwards continued his populist message with renewed vigor in hopes of attracting some of the young voters orphaned by the demise of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign earlier this month.

“It is clear that when our president is someone who understands that a rising tide lifts all boats, America prospers and grows stronger,” Mr. Edwards said. “And when our president is someone who believes that a rising tide is there only to get the yachts out of the harbor, then America suffers.”

Republicans have all but written off Mr. Edwards.

Mr. Bush’s campaign chairman, former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, said earlier this week that there might be a “mathematical possibility” that Mr. Edwards still could win the Democratic nomination, but that Mr. Kerry is the “apparent and presumptive nominee.”

Mr. Edwards was much more optimistic. In a campaign speech in Texas, Mr. Bush’s home state — where the president was governor before winning the White House in 2000 — Mr. Edwards said, “We’re going to carry this state next November.”

Before arriving in Houston yesterday, Mr. Edwards campaigned in Georgia — supposedly his Southern home turf. Mr. Edwards, who was born in South Carolina and represents North Carolina, has targeted the South as the heart of his campaign.

The only nomination contest he’s won so far has been in South Carolina, prompting him to argue that only he can challenge Mr. Bush in the South. Mr. Kerry, who as Northeastern liberal faces an uphill battle among conservative Southern voters, has responded that Mr. Edwards’ campaign is merely a regional one.

Whatever Mr. Edwards’ hopes are in Georgia, a poll conducted there earlier this month showed Mr. Kerry trouncing Mr. Edwards by a two-to-one margin. Mr. Edwards’ supporters dismissed the poll, saying it was conducted before Georgia voters focused on the race and before the field had been reduced to only two viable candidates.

Tonight, Mr. Edwards will join Mr. Kerry — along with the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio — in Los Angeles for one of the final debates before next Tuesday’s series of 11 primaries and caucuses, the largest trove of delegates to date.

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