COLUMBIA, S.C. – John Edwards (search) won the state he always knew he had to win on Tuesday and said his strategy "will work everywhere in the country," as he turned his attention to the Democratic contests ahead in his battle to overtake front-runner John Kerry (search).
"You said that the politics of lifting people up beats the politics of tearing people down," a pumped-up Edwards told shouting and cheering supporters at a victory party at a restaurant in the state capital.
"And, today, we said clearly to the American people that in our country, our America, everything is possible," Edwards said, his voice raspy from days of nonstop campaigning.
The victor in the first-in-the-South primary was flying next to Memphis, Tenn., and planned to campaign in Tennessee, Virginia and Michigan in the coming days, with a little time out in New York on Wednesday to do a top 10 list on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS.
Edwards' campaign recognized that Kerry, who won far more states and delegates in Tuesday's seven-state challenge, remained the clear front-runner and a formidable obstacle to Edwards' hopes of winning the Democratic nomination.
But the South Carolina (search) vote not only kept Edwards' candidacy alive, his wide margin of victory over Kerry gave it new impetus. He also took comfort from placing a distant second in Missouri and a close second in Oklahoma.
"We won South Carolina in a resounding fashion and won both the African-American and white vote in South Carolina, and we go from here to other states -- Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee," Edwards told The Associated Press. "It's very easy to lay out the map to get us to the nomination."
Edwards had said all along that South Carolina was a must-win state for him. Had he lost in the state of his birth, he would have dropped out. Tuesday's decisive victory gives him forward momentum.
Edwards' campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, said the North Carolina senator's victory had "national significance" because all candidates had campaigned in South Carolina.
Turlington said that even if Edwards didn't score well in Michigan's contest on Saturday, he expected to add to his delegate total there. Tennessee and Virginia are the next "targets of opportunity," Turlington said. New TV ads are going to go on the air in both states on Wednesday, campaign officials said.
But Turlington said that the campaign also is looking further down the road, and was beefing up its "infrastructure" in Wisconsin, which has a Feb. 17 primary as well as in New York and Ohio.
Nearly half of South Carolina voters said the economy was their most important issue, exit polls show, and Edwards dominated this group, winning twice as many of their votes as Kerry did.
Edwards was helped by a diverse set of voters, scoring particularly well among whites, older people, those with less education and voters who describe themselves as moderate or conservative.
He split the black vote with Kerry, despite a high-profile Kerry endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn.
Edwards' Southern roots appear to have helped him. Just one in 10 voters said the most important quality in a candidate was that "he understands South Carolina," but Edwards took some 80 percent of those votes.
But Edwards did poorly among those who most valued electability. Among voters who said the ability to beat President Bush was most important, twice as many picked Kerry.