Although the Edwards campaign emphasized South Carolina, he also spent time in three other Feb. 3 states: Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Edwards lost to retired Gen. Wesley Clark by a razor-thin margin in the Sooner State and came in a distant second in Missouri. The campaign is still awaiting final results from New Mexico, but the Associated Press projected Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry the victor of that contest and Edwards trailing in fourth.
When results from South Carolina came in, Edwards told his supporters the victory proved that “lifting people up beats the politics of tearing people down.”
“If the American people give me a shot at George Bush next November, I will give them back the White House,” the senator said at a South Carolina victory rally. “You and I together are going to build one America that works for everybody.”
He called his first win a “great political opportunity” and during the short speech pledged to tackle the tough issues of poverty, unemployment and inequities in health care and education.
While campaigning in South Carolina, Edwards had said the Palmetto State was a “crucial bellwether.”
Analysts had said Tuesday’s win in South Carolina, where the senator was born, was critical to his campaign and would help him build momentum, while preventing front-runner Kerry from sweeping the seven Tuesday contests.
Edwards received 45 percent of the vote in South Carolina, followed by Kerry with 30 percent and the Rev. Al Sharpton with 10 percent.
In Oklahoma, Edwards enjoyed a surge in support in the closing days of the campaign. With the endorsement of the popular former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer, Edwards moved up from a distant third in opinion polls to a statistical tie with Clark.
After an unexpectedly strong second-place showing in Iowa, Edwards struggled in New Hampshire where he came in fourth just behind Clark.
The North Carolina senator and former trial lawyer has emphasized that his Southern roots would help him defeat President Bush in November.
“The South is not George Bush’s backyard. It’s my backyard,” Edwards told supporters Monday night.
Throughout his campaign, the first-term senator has sounded familiar themes, describing an America he tells voters is divided into two countries — one for the affluent and one for those struggling to make ends meet.
He also often highlighted his upbringing while on the campaign trail. He told audiences his father had to borrow money to bring him home from the hospital and he understands people having trouble paying their bills.
“I saw the devastation that was created in my home town when the mill closed,” he told an audience in South Carolina. “I haven’t forgotten where I came from.”
The North Carolina senator is scheduled to travel late Tuesday night to Tennessee, which votes on Feb. 10.
To conserve resources, Edwards did not campaign or run ads in Arizona, North Dakota or Delaware, where his support was thin.