MILWAUKEE – John Edwards (search) said Saturday he must do well, though not necessarily win, upcoming contests in Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin as he tries to become an alternative to Democratic front-runner John Kerry (search).
In Milwaukee, the North Carolina senator picked up his first union endorsement of the campaign, winning the support of the 250,000-member Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
Kerry this past week got the nod from the American Federation of Teachers, which counts 1.3 million members. The Service Employees International Union, the largest in the AFL-CIO (search) with 1.6 million members, is committed to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) through Wisconsin's primary on Feb. 17.
Edwards said he continues to look for support to an alliance of labor groups formed by the Teamsters and more than a dozen industrial unions that had supported Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), who ended his candidacy after he failed to win the Iowa caucuses. But officials say that group, the Alliance for Economic Justice (search), plans to support Kerry after getting approval of their boards this week.
Still, Edwards is holding out hope.
"These leaders all know that because of my own personal background and what my campaign is about that I would love to have their support," he told reporters.
Edwards is putting little effort into Saturday's contests in Michigan and Washington state or Sunday's in Maine; Kerry is strong in those states. Edwards is focusing instead on Tuesday's primaries in Virginia and Tennessee, and the Wisconsin race, describing those contests as "steps toward the nomination."
He has said that he must come in at least second in Virginia and Tennessee, although he said he would continue no matter where he might finish. When asked by campaign reporters in Memphis, Tenn., whether he would describe Wisconsin as his must-win state, Edwards said: "No. No, I would not."
"This is very much for me a long-term process. It's a war of attrition," Edwards said. "I'm in it until I'm the nominee."
In Wisconsin, he mentioned a request by Gov. Jim Doyle that all the candidates remain positive when they campaign in the state.
"He's right about that. It's exactly what we should be doing," Edwards told a rocking crowd of several hundred, mostly union members.
In recent days in Tennessee, Wesley Clark has sharpened his criticism of Edwards, including questioning his support of veterans. That led Edwards to respond to what he called "baseless, false attacks."
Later Saturday, Edwards was attending a Democratic event in Virginia along with Kerry and Clark.
Edwards said he would "continue to talk about the same things I've been talking about which is my vision for the country" and would not draw distinctions between himself and his Democratic rivals, unless he is asked.
That apparently is not the case when it comes to President Bush.
Edwards told an overflow crowd at the University of Memphis that Bush is out of touch.
"He lives a sheltered existence," he said. "He needs to be out here in the real world doing what I'm doing."