NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Under fire from rival Wesley Clark (search), Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards (search) said Thursday the retired Army general is engaging in the kind of "petty sniping" that he is trying to avoid.
"I think what General Clark should be talking about is what he wants to do for the country," Edwards told reporters aboard his campaign plane before taking off for Roanoke, Va.
Clark has accused Edwards and front-runner John Kerry of hypocrisy for criticizing President Bush's proposals that they voted for in the Senate -- education reform, the Patriot Act (search) and the Iraq war.
"This is the kind of petty sniping that people are sick of and my campaign is about something bigger and stronger," Edwards said, promising to continue a campaign that stays above the fray.
The North Carolina senator said he will continue on to Wisconsin even if he loses two crucial Southern states next Tuesday.
"In Tennessee and Virginia I have to be competitive, which I think means in the top two," he said.
Edwards said he expected to do well in both states, but suggested that a poor performance would not deter him from competing in Wisconsin, which holds its primary Feb. 17. "I'm going on. I'm going on," he said.
Edwards, the South Carolina primary victor, is barely campaigning in Michigan, Washington state and Maine, which hold contests this weekend. But he started running TV ads Thursday in Wisconsin, an effort to prove he can win outside the South and compete against Bush in the fall.
He has claimed he is the candidate who can win the South, but said losses in Virginia and Tennessee would not hurt that contention.
"South Carolina's a place where all of us campaigned. All of us competed hard," he said. "Tennessee and Virginia are places that we just haven't had as much time to spend in."
He also said he would have the money to compete in Wisconsin and that campaign coffers were boosted Wednesday night at a New York fund-raiser. Aides said he raised $250,000 in the 24 hours after Tuesday's win in South Carolina, and another $100,000 as of Thursday evening.
"We're doing terrific with fund-raising," Edwards said. "If money were the issue, we're in the best shape you can imagine."
In Roanoke, Edwards began a two-day jaunt of Tennessee and Virginia, dubbed the "Strengthening American Jobs" tour. He is crisscrossing the states daily and running television commercials in both.
Edwards is hoping the same recipe he used to win over South Carolina voters -- a dash of Southern charm from "the son of a millworker" combined with the promise to protect blue-collar jobs and fight trade policies he deems unfair -- resonates in Tennessee and Virginia.
"Twenty years ago we talked about buy American, remember that? How about hire American?" Edwards told a couple hundred cheering people at Tennessee State University. "We ought to be exporting American products not American jobs."
He spoke in a state that is smarting from Carrier Corp.'s announcement Monday that it will close its factory 80 miles south of Nashville, eliminating 1,300 jobs by transferring its commercial air conditioning and ventilation product lines to other Carrier factories, including in Monterrey, Mexico.