Edwards sets sights on vice presidency

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John Edwards, the Democratic hopeful, is making a determined last push in Iowa to be selected as the party's vice-presidential candidate.

Polls suggest that Mr Edwards' mostly positive campaign has benefited from the negative attacks other candidates have made about each other. Mr Edwards has concentrated his criticism on President George Bush.

Mr Edwards said this week: "If you will give me a shot at George Bush, I'll give you the White House."

Meanwhile, the party front-runner Howard Dean won the first primary of the 2004 presidential race, unofficial results showed yesterday, with 43 per cent. However, the Washington DC vote was non-binding and unlikely to affect the end result.

A poll in Iowa yesterday placed Mr Edwards fourth behind Mr Dean and candidates John Kerry and Dick Gephardt, who are tied for second place.

The poll suggests that Mr Dean has dropped four points to 24 per cent. They also suggest that Mr Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, has gained the most withsix points since the weekend. Mr Edwards has gained one or two points.

His advisers privately conceded that he could not win in Iowa. But they are aiming for a respectable showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. This would be followed by a big stand in South Carolina, where Mr Edwards hopes to win big. "I'm better known, or at least was when the race began, in South Carolina," he said.Mr Dean and Mr Kerry have an advantage in New Hampshire as Mr Gephardt, a Missouri Congressman, has in Iowa, because they are from neighbouring states.

Mr Edwards was tipped as the ideal Democratic challenger to Mr Bush. But his early campaign failed to capture the public's imagination.

Buta strong stand in South Carolina would make him more attractive as a vice-presidential running-mate, especially for Mr Dean, who would come under fire from Republicans for his liberal, north-eastern roots.

Mr Dean's campaign in the south will be boosted by the endorsement of Jimmy Carter, the former president, who is expected to give a speech on Sunday which supports, but technically does not endorse, the former Vermont governor.

Mr Edwards' efforts have been helped by the unexpected endorsement of the influential newspaper, the Des Moines Register.