NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards (search) 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," Edwards told reporters aboard his campaign plane before taking off for Roanoke, Va.
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.
The North Carolina senator and South Carolina (search) 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 President Bush in the fall.
"I am going on. I am going on," Edwards said.
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.
"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 was kicking off 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. The plant's commercial air conditioning and ventilation product lines will be transferred to other Carrier factories, including in Monterrey, Mexico.
In recent days, Edwards has sought to highlight policy differences with front-runner John Kerry, balancing his criticism of the Massachusetts senator with his efforts to run a "positive" campaign.
But Edwards' campaign traded barbs Thursday with Wesley Clark's (search) campaign, which on Wednesday criticized Edwards for voting for Bush's federal education reform bill. Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards spokeswoman, accused Clark's campaign of distorting the senator's record.
In response, Matt Bennett, Clark's communications director, criticized Edwards' campaign for "engaging in precisely the kind of 'political, petty sniping' they profess to abhor."
Edwards' response Thursday: "This is the kind of petty sniping that people are sick of and my campaign is about something bigger and stronger, lifting up the American people, giving them hope."