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Edwards Finds Southern Comfort

As the race for the Democratic nomination spreads across the country, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., is maintaining a solid regional advantage in South Carolina, the first Southern state to hold a presidential primary.

Edwards, a native South Carolinian, leads Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts by 12 points in the Palmetto State, according to a new CBS News poll.

Edwards currently garners 30 percent of the vote to Kerry's 18 percent. Three other candidates – Wesley Clark, Al Sharpton and Howard Dean – are tied for third place.

The poll was conducted Jan. 28-29 among a random sample of 807 registered S.C. voters, including 365 likely Democratic primary voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus four points for the full sample, and plus or minus five points for Democratic primary voters.

The results of the CBS poll differ sharply from today's Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby tracking poll, which shows Edwards with a narrow one-point edge over Kerry in South Carolina.

South Carolina is one of seven states holding contests Tuesday. Edwards has said he must win the first-in-the-South primary to keep his candidacy afloat. Kerry doubled his TV advertising in the state Friday and Edwards added enough money to match him ad for ad, a reflection of how important South Carolina's 45 delegates and capturing a Southern state are to the campaigns.

Kerry, the presumptive Democratic front-runner after wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, had better news from other states. A Zogby poll gave him a 34-point lead in delegate-rich Missouri, and a 21-point lead in Arizona. A Fargo Forum poll put Kerry ahead of retired Gen. Wesley Clark 31-15 percent in North Dakota, a state that is holding a caucus; while a poll by The Oklahoman newspaper showed Kerry with a 20-18 percent lead over Clark in Oklahoma.

Delaware and New Mexico are also holding primary contests next Tuesday. At stake are a total of 269 delegates, more than 12 percent of the 2,162 needed to win the nomination.

Kerry hopes to knock Clark and Edwards from the race Tuesday, then finish off a staggering Howard Dean four days later in Michigan and Washington state.

Dean, trying to salvage his campaign after losing to Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire, questioned his rival's Senate record.

"If Senator Kerry had accomplished anything in health care, he ought to be able to explain to the people of South Carolina how come there are so many uninsured kids here and there aren't any in my state," said the former Vermont governor.

He said Democrats need "a doer, not a talker" to beat President Bush in the fall.

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Dean is in no position to point fingers. "If Howard Dean wants to talk about records of accomplishment, then he has some explaining to do about balancing the Vermont budget on the backs of the poor, not taking action to better secure a nuclear power plant in the wake of Sept. 11 and throwing 400 family farms out of business," Cutter said.

Dean bristled at Kerry's suggestion that the former governor doesn't know enough about how Congress works. "That's just Washington blather," he said.

In Washington, the Communications Workers of America, with 700,000 members, endorsed Kerry and Michigan's largest teachers union, the 157,000-member Michigan Education Association, gave its support. A third union, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, plans to announce its backing next week.

President Bush cast his eyes warily on the race, planning a trip next Thursday to South Carolina. He campaigned in New Hampshire two days after the Granite State primary to counter Democratic criticism.

Kerry, Dean and four other candidates addressed a forum on low income and minority issues in South Carolina, where about half of voting Democrats are minorities.

"I'm the only one who has been a civil rights activist in this race," said Al Sharpton, the field's only black. "The rest of these people talked about what should be done. I did something about it."

Surveys show Sharpton with single-digit support in South Carolina, though state Democrats said pollsters might be underestimating his support among blacks.

The other candidates had to work harder to connect with black voters.

Clark told a Benedict College crowd that he opposed racial profiling by police, because he was once a victim of it. Clark said he was an Army captain in 1968 when he raised the suspicions of a police officer by wearing slightly long hair and driving a car with a German license plate.

Edwards insisted he was the only politician who talked about poverty, an important issue to his audience.

"It's one thing for people to come in front of you and talk about poverty," Edwards told his native-state crowd. "It's a different thing to talk about poverty every time you speak, everywhere in America, which is what I do."

Kerry pointed to his service in the Vietnam War.

"Most of the kids I was with in Vietnam came out of the South side of Chicago, South-central Los Angeles or the barrio or elsewhere," he said. "They weren't the kids from the university that I went to."

Kerry was a Navy office during the war and earned a string of decorations, including three purple hearts. His Vietnam colleagues travel with him, offering testimonials credited with turning his campaign around.

"In the heat of battle you learn about a man," said Rev. David Alston, a gunner on Kerry's boat.

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