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Inside Politics

Edwards hails 'huge night' for campaign

Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, celebrate his projected win in South Carolina.
Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, celebrate his projected win in South Carolina.

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America Votes 2004
Democratic candidates
South Carolina

(CNN) -- Sen. John Edwards called his strong showing in South Carolina on Tuesday a "huge night" for his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination -- and said he aimed to expand the appeal of his campaign.

The North Carolina senator is the projected winner in his native state of South Carolina -- and was locked in a tight race for victory in Oklahoma.

"Everything exceeded my expectations," Edwards told CNN's Larry King. Edwards said he plans to expand his campaign to compete in upcoming primaries.

"We're in as good a financial shape, maybe the best financial shape, as any of the campaigns," Edwards said. "Tonight, I go to Memphis. I'll be in Tennessee. I'll be in New York, Michigan, Virginia. I expect to compete very hard in Michigan."

With nearly 90 percent of all precincts reporting, Edwards led with 46 percent of the South Carolina vote.

"Today, we said clearly to the American people that in our country, in our America, everything is possible," Edwards told a crowd of supporters in Columbia, South Carolina.

Edwards had described South Carolina as a must-win state in his presidential bid. He was born in Seneca, South Carolina, and had campaigned heavily in the state.

CNN also projected Edwards to finish second in Missouri and Delaware, behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In Oklahoma, Edwards, Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark were awaiting official results. Exit polls show the race as too close to call and with 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Edwards trailed Clark by about 800 votes.

Until Iowa, pundits and critics had considered Edwards' campaign to be second-tier.

A surprising second-place finish in the January 19 Iowa caucuses brought his campaign more attention and more money.

Edwards has campaigned on hope and opportunity, urging Americans to work for a nation that isn't divided by wealth.

In his speech to South Carolina supporters, Edwards called the evening "a night of extraordinary celebration of a great political victory." He went on to reflect on America's working poor, whom he said would not celebrate but would be going to bed hungry, praying to stay warm and healthy.

Edwards' focus on the economy and the working class seems to have played well to South Carolina voters.

Exit polls showed that Edwards did particularly well among those without a high school degree.

Half of the exit poll respondents said their families' financial situation had worsened recently, compared to roughly 9 percent who said it had improved.

South Carolinians were pessimistic about the state of the economy, with all but a handful describing it as "not good" or "poor."

Edwards also did especially well among those who identified "understands my state" as the top quality they looked for in a candidate, as well as those who stressed a "positive message" and "cares about people."

And South Carolina veterans did not rally around fellow military veterans Kerry or Clark. Edwards convincingly defeated both candidates in veteran households.

In a bid to broaden his appeal beyond his native state, Edwards has said the Democratic nominee must be able to win in the South in order to unseat President 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."

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