FAIRFAX, Va. – Democrat John Edwards (search) campaigned Monday in Virginia and Tennessee, but was looking ahead to presidential contests in the Midwest and beyond, places where campaign advisers believe he has a better chance to distinguish himself from rivals Wesley Clark (search) and John Kerry (search).
At a rally in suburban Washington, Edwards assailed President Bush's annual economic report that hailed the nation's economy as "strong and getting stronger."
"Did you know our economy's doing just fine?" Edwards said sarcastically. "This will be another news bulletin to you: outsourcing of jobs is a good thing for America."
The crowd of more than 1,000 packed into a ballroom at George Mason University, and several hundred others filling an adjoining atrium, erupted in laughter, hoots and hollers.
"These people, what planet do they live on? They are so out of touch with what's going on in the real world," Edwards said, referring to Republican White House officials and Bush. "I wish for once in his life, he'd do what I do: go out and talk to the people who he's supposed to be representing."
The campaign has spent the past few days lowering expectations for the Virginia and Tennessee primaries on Tuesday, saying they expect Kerry to win. Edwards says he must finish at least second in either or both of those states, but that he will stay in the race regardless of the outcome. He says losing the two Southern states won't undermine his argument that he's the only Democrat who can beat Bush in the South.
With an eye on Wisconsin's Feb. 17 primary, Edwards planned to watch Tuesday's returns from Milwaukee and campaign there until Thursday when he planned to fly to California for two days of campaigning and fund raising in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Aides say Wisconsin will be a more level playing field because all of the Democratic presidential candidates will be competing in the same state. They believe Edwards and Kerry will be the only candidates remaining after Wisconsin and heading into the March 2 multistate primaries known as Super Tuesday.
"What we have been preparing for the entire time is a nomination process that's going to go on well into March," Edwards told reporters Monday. "We're prepared for that, we have the resources to do that, and, most importantly, we have a message that obviously resonates when voters hear it."
In the two weeks of campaigning between Wisconsin and March 2, aides believe Edwards can break through on that multistate stage, which they say is a true national test because it reaches many parts of the country. By that time, they anticipate voters will be taking a second look at Kerry and choose Edwards instead.
Of the 12 states that have held Democratic presidential contests so far, Edwards has won only South Carolina, the state of his birth. He trails Kerry and Howard Dean in the contest for convention delegates.
On Monday in Norfolk, Edwards localized his stump speech on the grounds of Tidewater Community College in the military town, saying: "We don't need to be closing any bases and doing damage to the economies of this area."
Earlier, Edwards met privately with Carrier Corp. factory workers in Morrison, Tenn., who found out last week that 1,300 jobs would be eliminated when their plant closed.
"What are they supposed to do now? Where to they go now?" he said. "They've done what they're supposed to do in this country, which is work hard, be responsible be law abiding, pay their taxes, raise their families."