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Candidates Take Aim At Feb. 3 Primaries, Front-runner Kerry

The campaigns have targeted different states, hoping to garner critical delegates to the national convention and to stop the growing impression that Kerry may secure the nomination.

Edwards has said he must place first in South Carolina, the state where he was born, to remain viable in the race. To try and lock in the Palmetto State, he has stressed his southern roots.

“I’m from here. I know what matters to people in the South,” he said.

Those backing his candidacy echo his themes.

“He’s one of us,” South Carolina state Rep. Bill Clyburn said Friday. “He believes that America works best when it works for all of us.”

On the trail, Edwards has focused on a positive message of ending the promotion of “Two Americas” — one for the wealthy and another for the poor and lower middle class.

During a radio forum on the syndicated Tom Joyner Show Friday, he said that he is the only candidate who has made the poor an issue in the nomination fight.

“It’s one thing for people to come in front of you and talk about poverty,” he said.

“It’s a different thing to talk about poverty every time you speak, everywhere in American, which is what I do.”

An animated Edwards told the audience, “I grew up the way you grew up. I come from the same place. I spent 20 years in courtrooms fighting for you. I will never forget where I came from and you can take that to the bank.”

His campaigning in South Carolina has help him maintain a slim lead there, with one recent MSNBC/Zogby poll giving Edwards a 1-point lead over the hard-charging Kerry.

In addition to his populist appeal in South Carolina, Edwards has hit the trail hard in another Feb. 3 primary state, Oklahoma.

“I have a powerful case to make in Oklahoma,” Edwards told The Washington Post Wednesday. “I come from and grew up in a small-town community, just like most of Oklahoma. … I feel great cultural connection here.”

But so far Oklahoma has been trending in polls toward another Southern-born candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who maintains an 8-to-10-point advantage in most surveys.

Clark, who finished third in New Hampshire narrowly ahead of Edwards, campaigned again in the state Wednesday, stressing his military record and religious values.

“I was 9 years old … I accepted the Lord as my savior,” he told a church audience in Tulsa as part of his “Traditional Values” tour, adding, “We are the most religious country in the world. That’s just the way we are.”

Clark also blasted the president for forgetting the poor and those without medical insurance.

“These are cutbacks coming because George W. Bush cut taxes for wealthy people, took revenue sources from states, and states are cutting back on Medicaid,” an angry Clark told a woman who broke down as she described her family’s health issues during the radio forum in South Carolina.

Although he is campaigning in many of the states that go to the polls Tuesday, the former Supreme Allied commander also told reporters his campaign organization stretches beyond Feb. 3.

“We’re very strong in a number of states — in finance and organization well past Feb. 3. I intend to win on Feb. 3,” said the retired Army general.

According to officials, the Clark campaign is spending about $1.2 million, more than his rivals so far, this week to run ads there and in Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin, which hold primaries later in February.

Lieberman has also hit Oklahoma, but has turned much of his attention to Delaware, where he may likely score his strongest showing of the election year.

The Connecticut senator has lined up the endorsement of former governor and current Sen. Tom Carper as well as two other key party leaders.

“Delaware, our First State, is first in my mind,” the Connecticut senator said. “I intend to keep going. That will keep me going with some ‘Joe-mentum.'”

Most anecdotal and media reports indicate Lieberman could win Delaware on Tuesday. As he continues to campaign in small diners and party gatherings, Lieberman has argued he is the candidate most likely to defeat President Bush and the Democrat White House officials have said they would not want to face in a general election.

In Arizona, although polls have Kerry opening up a lead, the state’s largest paper backed Lieberman Thursday, saying he, “embraces the economic and social ideas and ideals that are central to the Democratic Party’s middle-class base.”

“Arizona ought to be the state that rewards Lieberman’s kind of political courage, to stand up for what he believes in and not always tack to the left with the prevailing winds,” the Arizona Republic editorialized.

With hours ticking away before polls open on Tuesday, the three candidates continue to work large crowds of supporters and spend significant sums of money on advertising, all with the aim of stopping John Kerry’s string of wins.

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