DURANT, Okla. – Sen. John Edwards (search) on Wednesday depicted a victory in South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary next week as crucial to his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, and expressed optimism about also winning in other Feb. 3 primary states.
The North Carolina Democrat campaigned in South Carolina, and Missouri on Wednesday, a day after finishing fourth in New Hampshire behind retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search), his other Southern rival.
He said he was pleased with that showing, which followed a strong second-place finish last week in the Iowa caucuses.
"This momentum, this energy we've seen in Iowa and New Hampshire (search) is now coming to Oklahoma," Edwards told a rally at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Earlier, in South Carolina, he shrugged off the announced plans of South Carolina's only black member of Congress, Rep. Jim Clyburn, to endorse front-runner John Kerry.
"I have great respect for Congressman Clyburn. He's a good man," Edwards said, adding, "I think actually almost all of Congressman Clyburn's people are supporting me and working with me."
Some of Edwards' supporters were more critical.
Ike Williams, on a leave of absence as Clyburn's chief of staff and now a paid Edwards adviser, called the endorsement part of a "bandwagon" effect after Kerry's big back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"I'm not for this bandwagon thing because there was a bandwagon behind Dukakis and we went through a trainwreck," Williams said.
It was a reference to the last Massachusetts Democrat to win the Democratic nomination, Michael Dukakis, in 1988. Dukakis was handily defeated by Bush's father, the first President Bush.
Democratic South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, an Edwards supporter, criticized both Clyburn and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings for backing Kerry. "They are both gutless, endorsing him because they think he's ahead," Ford said.
Blacks make up about 30 percent of South Carolina's population, and may represent up to 50 percent of those who vote in the Feb. 3 primary. Polls show the only black candidate in the race, Al Sharpton, bunched near the top with Edwards, Kerry and Clark.
"I think I need to win South Carolina," Edwards told reporters. "But I have lots of other opportunities available." Specifically, he mentioned Oklahoma, Missouri and New Mexico.
Those states hold nominating contests next week along with South Carolina, as are Arizona, Delaware and North Dakota.
"I believe that I can win in the Southern states," he told reporters. But, he added, "We have to win not just in the South, but everywhere."
Edwards also rejected any notion of sharing the Democratic ticket with Kerry — unless he is at the top.
Asked on NBC's "Today" show if he would accept second place on the Democratic slate to face President Bush in the fall election, Edwards said: "I think you've got the order reversed. I intend to be the nominee."
He said he would not be willing to be No. 2. "I don't want to be vice president. I'm running for president," he said.
Earlier, at a rally at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Edwards stood by a "Bringing it Home banner" and noted his unexpected second-place finish in Iowa and his performance in New Hampshire.
Clark, of Arkansas, and Edwards are the only Southerners in the race — and each has proclaimed himself to be the only candidate capable of defeating President Bush in November.
"The South is not George Bush's backyard. It is my backyard. And I will beat George Bush," Edwards said.
Edwards, a South Carolina native, told a mixed audience of blacks and whites that, "I have seen, as you have seen, the ugly faces of segregation and discrimination."
"We should talk about it everywhere. This is not an African-American issue," Edwards said.
Recent polls show Edwards with a slight lead over Kerry in South Carolina. The polls show Clark leading in Oklahoma and competitive with Kerry in Arizona.