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Edwards: 'I'm running a national campaign'

Sen. John Edwards talks to members of the media on a chartered flight after his win Tuesday in South Carolina.
Sen. John Edwards talks to members of the media on a chartered flight after his win Tuesday in South Carolina.

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(CNN) -- Savoring his victory in Tuesday's South Carolina primary, Sen. John Edwards said Wednesday that his support extends beyond the South and that he is the Democrat who can defeat President Bush in November.

"I'm somebody who can beat George Bush nationally," Edwards said in an interview on CNN's "American Morning."

The senator from North Carolina acknowledged he could not win a general election banking solely on support from his home region, but he said he had proven his viability as a national candidate.

As examples, Edwards pointed to his surprise second-place showing in last month's Iowa caucuses and fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary behind Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

"Last night, I was in a virtual dead heat with Wesley Clark in Oklahoma. I finished a strong second in Missouri," he added. "No, it's clear that I'm running a national campaign."

Kerry, the Democratic front-runner, has won seven out of nine state contests so far, including victories Tuesday in Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico. Besides the loss in South Carolina, he also finished behind Clark and Edwards in Oklahoma on Tuesday.

The race in the Sooner State was so close that no winner could be declared until the state elections board certifies the vote next week.

Edwards said exit polls show him doing well among rural and African-American voters, constituencies he called "absolutely critical to us winning the general election."

"This is quickly narrowing to a two-person race, even at the most arguably three at this point," he said, apparently referring to himself, Kerry and Clark.

The smaller field of viable candidates "is exactly what we needed to have happen -- we need that kind of focus," he said.

Asked if he'll zero in more on Kerry's record in hopes of racing past the front-runner, Edwards responded, "There's no attack in my strategy."

"What got me to this place ... was a positive message with new, fresh ideas about how we make this country work for everybody," he said.

But he added, "When people ask me directly about differences between Sen. Kerry and myself, I will answer those questions, as I'm sure he will."

Edwards plans to focus largely on next week's primaries in Tennessee and Virginia -- two Southern states that are among five states set to vote then. But he also said he believes he can do well in Wisconsin on February 17.

The senator said he expects to be competitive in all 11 state contests on March 2 -- known as "Super Tuesday" -- including primaries in California and New York, which have the most delegates at stake. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)


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