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Inside Politics

Edwards touts Southern credentials ahead of S.C. primary

From Phil Hirschkorn

John Edwards speaks at the Allen Temple AME church, during a campaign stop, in Greenville, South Carolina, Thursday.
John Edwards speaks at the Allen Temple AME church, during a campaign stop, in Greenville, South Carolina, Thursday.

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GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- Sen. John Edwards predicted Thursday he will win next week's Democratic presidential primary in his native South Carolina, saying Democrats need a candidate who can challenge President Bush in the South.

"I feel completely at home and very comfortable," Edwards told reporters after a quick jaunt to Oklahoma and Missouri, two other states holding primaries on Tuesday.

Edwards, who now represents North Carolina in the Senate, has emphasized repeatedly that the Democratic nominee must be able to play in Dixie in order to unseat Bush in November.

"We've never elected a Democrat president of the United States without winning at least five Southern states," Edwards said. "If Democrats across the country want to take a risk on the first time in American history, that's a possibility -- they can do that. What I give them is a candidate who can win everywhere in America."

Edwards came in second in the Iowa caucuses and ran fourth in the New Hampshire primary, narrowly trailing retired Gen. Wesley Clark -- another candidate touting his Southern roots. But the winner of both those contests, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, picked up the endorsement of the state's only African-American congressman Thursday when Rep. Jim Clyburn announced he would back Kerry's campaign.

Clyburn's endorsement is a coveted prize in a state where black voters could make up half the primary electorate. But Edwards downplayed Clyburn's decision, saying that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's support from leading figures in Iowa and New Hampshire were little help to the former front-runner.

"You get to a presidential election, you can't tell voters what to do. They're going to evaluate each one of us and decide who they want to be their president," he said.

Edwards, who is giving up his Senate seat after a single term to run for president, has said South Carolina is a must-win contest for him. But he said Missouri is more of a bellwether test for November.

He said the race there is wide open since the withdrawal of Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, who placed fourth in Iowa, and "it's much harder for us all to get our messages through there."

"I think Missouri is more of a wild card," said Edwards, who began running television commercials in the Show-Me State Thursday. "Some of the states, like Oklahoma, New Mexico, obviously South Carolina, that we've been campaigning in for a year, it'll be easier for voters to know more about us."

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