- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. John Edwards’ poll numbers and support here won’t yield to last-minute surges by John Kerry that have bludgeoned one-time primary leaders. Twice this primary season, Mr. Kerry’s final jumps have ousted primary front-runners.

In Iowa, the push by the Massachusetts senator bedeviled Rep. Richard A. Gephardt. Ahead in the polls just days before the caucuses, Mr. Gephardt dropped out of the race after a disappointing fourth-place finish.

And in New Hampshire, Mr. Kerry pummeled former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who also had a commanding lead — by as much as 30 percent in some polls. Mr. Dean’s campaign would succumb to Mr. Kerry, who took 38 percent of the vote.

That’s not the case, so far, in Mr. Edwards’ birth state of South Carolina, where he is ahead of the pack and staying there, according to some local voters and activists.

“He has an ability to connect with ordinary folks, and he can blur the racial divide the moment he enters a room,” said attorney Edward Givens, supporter of the North Carolina senator.

Mr. Edwards had at least 500 volunteers canvassing the state yesterday while he traveled west. And it was obvious where the people’s allegiance lay.

At four different sites in the city on Gervais, Main, Lady and Huger streets, Edwards supporters held signs reading “Honk twice 4 Edwards.”

“I think South Carolina will make their own decision, but obviously, John Edwards was born in South Carolina, he’s based in North Carolina, and if he can’t win here, where can he win?” asked Marcus Jadotte, a Kerry deputy campaign manager.

Mr. Jadotte said his candidate has not conceded one vote in the Palmetto State and that his campaigning has continued since June. He was responding to statements made by former state Democratic Party chairman Richard A. Harpootlian that Mr. Kerry had abandoned the state.

Both Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general, and Mr. Kerry had similar volunteer efforts, but supporters for Mr. Edwards dogged them at their locations across the street from the statehouse. Mr. Clark, whom many Democratic analysts expected to have a strong movement here, is faltering in recent polls.

A Zogby poll released yesterday showed Mr. Edwards extending his lead over Mr. Kerry to lead the pack with 26 percent. Mr. Kerry dropped two points to 22 percent, with Mr. Dean idle at third place with 9 percent.

Mr. Edwards, 50, has claimed he is the only candidate with new ideas in the 2004 presidential race.

“I think he’s too young,” said Rand Taylor, 67, “but it seems like people are ready for a fresh face and new ideas.”

Roland Temple, 20, said he thinks Mr. Edwards has the best education plan that he has heard, but he remains undecided.

“I’ve been following the race, and I saw Wesley Clark and [the] Rev. Al Sharpton, and they were pretty good. I guess I’ll decide on Monday who to vote for,” Mr. Temple said.

Although Mr. Edwards has an edge to win the state here Tuesday, it may not mean anything in the general election in November.

“This is Bush country, no doubt about it,” said Lee Bandy, a seasoned journalist for The State newspaper, based here in the capital.

“It is almost a crime not to be a Republican in the South,” said one local bartender.

But David Sykes, 37, of Greenville, said he has noticed some Republicans who are not eager to see four more years for Mr. Bush.

“My cousin is a die-hard Republican, and he has been following the Democrats everywhere. He told me yesterday he’s voting for Mr. Edwards on Tuesday,” Mr. Sykes said.

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