GREENVILLE, S.C. – Heading into the weekend before the next mother lode of Democratic races to clinch the party's nomination, the presidential hopefuls on Friday continued to pick up endorsements, pick on one another and insist they're the best man to run against President Bush in November.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search) scored a trifecta — picking up the support of three of the most influential politicians in the South — only days before the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary.
Besides the earlier endorsements of Sen. Fritz Hollings and Rep. Jim Clyburn, both South Carolina Democrats, Kerry also just got the formal backing of John Fowler, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Fowler is from South Carolina and a prominent and influential Democrat in the Palmetto State.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), who leads the polls in South Carolina and considers it his must-win state, got the support of Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah.
On Friday, Kerry also picked up the endorsement of the Communications Workers of America (search), the nation's largest communications and media union, representing more than 700,000 workers. The International Association of Fire Fighters also endorsed Kerry.
"On any number of measures to help working families, Senator Kerry's been a strong advocate. It certainly makes sense to support him," CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson told Foxnews.com. "We think he's the best candidate and we believe he'll win the White House next year."
Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona, Delaware and Oklahoma will hold primaries Feb. 3; New Mexico and North Dakota will hold caucuses. More than 21 million people and 269 Democratic convention delegates will be involved in these races, which will be the first real test of the candidates' national legitimacy.
"I think somebody who hasn't won a primary as of next week has to think very seriously about his future," said Susan Turnbill, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
'It's Going to Be a Very Close Race'
Despite the fact that South Carolina is supposed to be John Edwards country, Kerry continues to ride the so-called "Iowa bounce" he's enjoyed after his shock-and-awe performance in those caucuses on Jan. 19.
A South Carolina Index Poll taken Wednesday shows Edwards in first place with 26 percent of the vote, Kerry in second with 16 percent, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark (search) in third with 8 percent and Rev. Al Sharpton (search) with 7 percent.
In South Carolina, Edwards is in a statistical tie with Kerry at 25 percent, according to an MSNBC/Reuters/Zogby tracking poll released Friday.
"I think it's going to be a very close race," Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (search) told Fox News.
"I think what's interesting is you really have a very different phenomenon going on in South Carolina" with its different breed of conservatism, plus a large black population, he said, "both of which I think is going to make this a bellwether state for what happens in the rest of the country."
Edwards told South Carolinians Friday that he is their choice if they want someone who understands their lives, has new ideas for change and "will be back here after Feb. 3 not just to campaign in the general election but as president of the United States."
An American Research Group poll of 600 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters found that Edwards had 21 percent of the vote, Kerry had 17 percent, Sharpton had 15 percent, Clark had 14 percent, Howard Dean (search) had 9 percent and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) had 5 percent. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) had 1 percent, while 18 percent were undecided. The poll was conducted from Jan. 23-24.
In Missouri, the Zogby poll shows Kerry with 45 percent support in Missouri — another key Feb. 7 battleground state — while Edwards has 11 percent. Missouri has the largest delegate pool of the Feb. 3 states.
"Missouri is the political weathervane of this nation ... we've had the best record for the last 100 years for voting for the winning candidate in the presidential race," said Richard Hardy, political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Missourians are viewing John Kerry as electable."
'He Seems to Have Lost It'
Dean is still trying to find the right combination of mojo to get his campaign machine up and running again.
After twin losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, the former governor of Vermont took on a Washington insider, Roy Neel (search), as his new campaign CEO, and campaign architect Joe Trippi (search) resigned, raising more than one eyebrow amongst political observers.
"He's only got a few days to straighten this out before the truth of Tuesday," said Greg Craig, senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. "There's certainly sympathy and understanding and hope that Howard Dean continues to contribute to the Democratic Party."
Saying the Dean camp poured money into his campaign early on to create "a presumption of victory … quite frankly, he seems to have lost it," said Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich.
Dean also only has about $5 million left to play with, but says staffers will work without paychecks if they have to. He had about $41 million in the coffers at the end of 2003. The doctor-turned politician has pulled all of his ads from the Feb. 3 states.
"He doesn't have any money and that's starting to be a big problem for him right now," Estrich said.
And in the crown royal of political campaigns, money is everything.
"My campaign is in very good shape financially," Edwards told reporters Friday. "I don't know the details about the other campaigns but ours is. I suspect from what I know, we are in the best shape, or close to best shape."
Dean took off for Missouri Friday, while Kerry was scheduled to make a late trip to Delaware, where Lieberman was campaigning. Clark was preparing to hit Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Missouri Democrats canceled a debate tentatively scheduled in the Show Me State for Monday night.
Edwards stayed in South Carolina to attend a Hootie and the Blowfish (search) concert.
In Arizona, Kerry also is leading with 38 percent of the vote, Clark has 17 percent and Howard Dean has 12 percent, according to Friday's Zogby poll. That poll also gave Clark 27 percent and Kerry 19 percent in Oklahoma.
And in New Mexico, "right now, I think Kerry, Dean and Clark are in a dead heat" with Edwards moving up, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told Fox News.
And with 55 percent of New Mexico's voters being Hispanic, "this and South Carolina and Arizona will be the states with large minority populations," Richardson said, "so this will be a test of how candidates do with a critical base of our populations."
A poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers in North Dakota shows Kerry in the lead there with 31 percent, Clark with 15 percent and 40 percent undecided.
A poll by The Oklahoman newspaper found Kerry and Clark neck and neck in Oklahoma, and Edwards within the margin of error.
Meanwhile, criticisms continued to fly Friday in what many political observers have said is a down-and-dirty campaign for the finish. And much of it was, not surprisingly, directed at the front-runner from Massachusetts.
Dean said Friday that Kerry hasn't accomplished much during his 20-year Senate career and that the presidential nominee should be "a doer, not a talker."
Clark criticized Kerry for failing to take responsibility for comments Kerry made about affirmative action.
"When you make a mistake you ought to fess up to it, take responsibility for it, and correct it," Clark said while visiting historically black Benedict College. "We need leadership that will take responsibility in this country, and I'm very disturbed that John did not do that."
Fox News' Carl Cameron, Yolanda Maggi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.