Edwards needs more than southern comfort to halt front-runner with national appeal

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The Independent US

John Edwards seized on his convincing win in South Carolina yesterday by heading straight to another southern state in an attempt to repeat his victory and disrupt John Kerry's runaway campaign.

Boosted by the bigger than expected margin of victory in South Carolina and a close second place in Oklahoma, Mr Edwards showed a new willingness yesterday to take the fight outside his southern homeland and prove that he can excite Democratic voters across the nation. "It's a two-person race right now," said Mr Edwards, as he arrived in Tennessee yesterday morning to campaign ahead of the state's primary next Tuesday.

"South Carolina was a good test, a test for who could do well in the South, who could do well with the rural voters, who could do well with African-American voters."

Mr Edwards, 50, senator for North Carolina and son of a textile mill worker, is pitching himself to Democrats not only as a candidate who understands the concerns of working families but as the man who can win in the South - a factor that history has been shown to be crucial for anyone seeking the White House.

But while his victory in South Carolina has underlined his southern viability, his real challenge lies in appealing to the country at large. To prove that he has all-round appeal, he desperately needs to win a large northern state. "We have to run a national campaign," Mr Edwards said on Tuesday night when the polls showed that he had won 45 per cent of the vote in South Carolina.

"We started in Iowa, we surged and finished second there. I competed in New Hampshire, even though we had three New England candidates in the race. I competed here in South Carolina, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri. This is a national campaign. I'm not walking away from any place. I intend to run a national campaign until I am the nominee."

Given this, there is reason to question Mr Edwards' current tactics: opting to concentrate on Tennessee and Virginia, another southern state which also votes next Tuesday, while in effect ignoring the contests in Michigan and Maine, which hold their primaries on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Mr Edwards may be seeking the momentum to force Howard Dean and Wesley Clark out of the race, but by doing do so he risks presenting himself as a candidate with solely regional appeal.

Linda Honold, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told reporters: "He certainly needs to pay attention to the entire country. It's important for him to be present in states other than the South.

Mr Edwards has the finances to keep fighting for some time yet. Tuesday's win in South Carolina will have boosted his campaign coffers. After his second finish in Iowa two weeks ago he raised about $1.3m (£700,000), with a total of $100,000 arriving in the first 24 hours after the contest.

Even if Mr Edwards does not succeed in stopping Mr Kerry, there is little doubt that his high exposure and his persistently positive campaign will have made him an increasingly attractive running mate. Many strategists see the Kerry/Edwards ticket as the perfect combination, mixing North with South and experience with vitality.

Mr Edwards has been hounded by questions about whether he would be Mr Kerry's running mate and he has so far made clear his goal is the presidency. Asked if he could run on same ticket as the Massachusetts senator, he replied: "Only if he's interested in being vice-president ... I am in this to be the Democratic nominee and I intend to fight with everything I have to be that and to beat George Bush."