NORFOLK, Va. – Fresh from his South Carolina victory, John Edwards (search) sought support in two other critical Southern states on Wednesday as he worked to portray the Democratic presidential race as a two-man contest between himself and front-runner John Kerry (search).
Wesley Clark (search), a fellow Southerner, stands squarely in Edwards' path as he tries to overtake Kerry.
"This is a very fluid race. It looks like it's narrowed down to two, or maybe three, candidates," Edwards told reporters after a rally at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tenn. "And I think if it's two, it's myself and Senator Kerry. I'll let General Clark argue for whether he should be No. 3."
Edwards and Clark each have one Democratic win against Kerry's seven, and both lag far behind the Massachusetts senator in delegates. But the Edwards camp portrayed the win in his native South Carolina as a blowout while noting that Clark had eked out a victory over Edwards in Oklahoma.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean remains in the race, but he has yet to win a contest.
Clark, who is from Arkansas, is in direct competition with Edwards in Tennessee and Virginia, two states with primaries on Tuesday. In fact, their campaign press buses were parked next to each other at a Memphis hotel on Wednesday morning.
After participating in a town-hall meeting Wednesday afternoon in Norfolk, Edwards was flying to New York for a fund-raiser and to do the "Top Ten" on CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman." Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the campaign did not know what the "Top Ten" lines would be and had offered no suggestions.
While focusing on Tennessee and Virginia, Edwards was giving less attention to two Democratic contests that hold elections Saturday but did not have a big Edwards following: Michigan and Washington State. He planned a campaign trip to Michigan, possibly including a sleepover, but had no plans for a transcontinental trip to the Pacific Northwest.
At the Orpheum Theater rally, Edwards jumped onto a platform before a huge American flag and pumped his arms, thumbs up. He told those in the audience, "Any of you who have not yet voted, go vote for John Edwards." Tennessee has an early voting program.
Edwards sounded one of his main campaign themes, "the loss of millions of jobs ... caused in part by the trade policies of this administration." As he had done in South Carolina, Edwards emphasized his roots in the South, noting he had worked for a while in Tennessee.
Despite his strong South Carolina victory, Edwards' strategists were mindful that their candidate needs a win outside his region to prove his viability as a national candidate able to go up against President Bush in the fall.
Unfazed by Kerry's lead, Edwards said his South Carolina victory would not push him to attack the front-runner, only point out their differences.
"There's no attack in my strategy, I can tell you that. What got me to this place ... was a positive message with new, fresh ideas about how we make this country work for everybody," Edwards told "American Morning" on CNN. "When people ask me directly about Senator Kerry and myself, I'll answer those questions, as I'm sure he will."