- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards has returned to his birth state in a bid to cash in on his momentum from Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Edwards, who was born in Seneca, S.C., acknowledged that he needs a win in the primary here Tuesday to keep pace with the front-runner, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

“I’m going to win South Carolina. I need to win South Carolina, to answer your question, and I will win South Carolina,” Mr. Edwards told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” program.

However, that might prove tougher than the North Carolina senator expected. Mr. Kerry was expected to accept an endorsement today from Rep. James E. Clyburn, a six-term South Carolina Democrat and the highest-ranking black elected official in the state.

“What a great two weeks we’ve had coming out of nowhere in Iowa from 5 percent to 32 percent and in New Hampshire down 20 points behind General [Wesley] Clark two days ago, and now tied for third,” Mr. Edwards told a group of college students yesterday at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

Meanwhile yesterday, the other Democratic candidates left New Hampshire for parts west and south, campaigning where they think their best chance exists to win a state or two and gain some traction. The candidates all will be on a South Carolina stage tonight, for a debate in Greenville that will be televised on MSNBC.

Only Mr. Kerry planned a vigorous weeklong effort to compete in all seven of next Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses. Mr. Clark planned his major pushes for Missouri, South Carolina and Oklahoma. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has his strongest hopes in Delaware and Oklahoma, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will make trips to states further down the nominating process — Michigan and Washington.

Mr. Edwards, who has been a senator since 1999, was the first candidate to arrive here after the New Hampshire primary and picked the ideal location to begin his South Carolina campaign.

Blacks make up more than 40 percent of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, and all roads to liberal victory go through Orangeburg, a midsized city with a population of nearly 100,000 and the state’s largest historically black university — South Carolina State.

An Edwards campaign official said his boss isn’t concerned with Mr. Clyburn’s possible endorsement of Mr. Kerry and thinks his support base already is growing here.

Mr. Edwards netted the support of 94 state and party elected officials, campaign spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said.

“Congressman Clyburn is a good man, but we are happy to have many of his supporters, who were supporting [Rep. Richard A.] Gephardt before he dropped out of the race, helping us,” Miss Engebretsen said.

Mr. Clyburn had endorsed the 28-year Missouri congressman for president, but Mr. Gephardt removed himself from contention after placing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Kerry won Iowa in a surprise comeback victory and then took the coveted New Hampshire primary this week with an impressive 39 percent of the vote, making him the outright front-runner.

Although Mr. Kerry seemingly has secured the Clyburn endorsement, many members of the Clyburn machine are supporting Mr. Edwards.

Michael McClain, a field coordinator with Mr. Gephardt, is now in the same position on the Edwards campaign, and Ike Williams served as an aide to Mr. Clyburn before joining the Gephardt campaign and then the Edwards team.

“Quite a few of us came over to Edwards, because we see a compassion and a commitment from him, and I believe he will have a strong presence here because he has connected to minorities,” Mr. Williams said.

Students at South Carolina State also felt a connection with Mr. Edwards.

“I am not undecided anymore. I want to vote for him,” said Angel Pointer, 18, a freshman who will be voting for the first time this year.

“I really liked his college plan, and his plan to put in more money for teachers to teach in poor communities. That’s my major,” Miss Pointer said.

Mr. Edwards told the college crowd that full scholarships for freshman students who work 10 hours a week in their first year in college is his top priority. He also wants to provide incentive bonuses for teachers who are willing to work in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“I think the college plan was an excellent idea,” said James Isreal, 20, who said he is considering Mr. Edwards, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Clark in his field of three, with the Rev. Al Sharpton a distant fourth choice.

Mr. Sharpton has camped out here for three months and has raised concerns about whether he will win the black vote on which Mr. Edwards is relying.

“I don’t believe that and neither does anyone else. Sharpton will have some impact, but not a large showing,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Clark, a former NATO commander and an Arkansas native, has family in the state and is attempting to use his Southern roots to garner votes here. However, that may be too late for the retired general, because Mr. Edwards has surged in the most recent polls.

In two polls this week, Mr. Edwards gained ground while the other candidates lost their footing among likely voters.

An American Research Group survey of 600 likely Democratic voters in South Carolina conducted Friday and Saturday had Mr. Edwards leading with 21 percent, followed by Mr. Kerry at 17 percent. Mr. Sharpton placed third with 15 percent, Mr. Clark had 14 percent, and 18 percent were undecided. There was a 4 percentage point margin of error.

A second poll conducted by Insider Advantage and Marketing Workshop of 500 potential voters in South Carolina with the same margin of error had Mr. Edwards leading with 20 percent, Mr. Kerry at 14 percent and 36 percent undecided.

Mr. Clark and Mr. Dean were tied for third with 10 percent each, and Mr. Sharpton had dropped to 4 percent.

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