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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Victory in birthplace vital, Edwards says

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina arrives at South Carolina State University to court possible voters. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina arrives at South Carolina State University to court possible voters.

ORANGEBURG, S.C. - With a spirited appeal to a predominantly black audience, Sen. John Edwards came here to the state of his birth seeking new life for his presidential campaign.

Hours after his fourth place finish in New Hampshire, the North Carolina senator courted votes at South Carolina State University, a historically black college in a state in which African-Americans are expected to account for 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday s primary, one that Senator Edwards has said he must win to sustain his White House hopes.

Mr. Edwards was greeted with reports that the state s most prominent and popular black politician was poised to endorse his front-running rival, Sen. John Kerry, (D., Mass.).

The Associated Press predicted that Congressman James Clyburn would join South Carolina s Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, in backing Senator Kerry.

Hope Derrick, an aide to Mr. Clyburn, declined to confirm the report and said the congressman would have no comment until he returns to the district from Washington today. The local Kerry campaign, however, notified reporters to expect “a major endorsement,” in Columbia, S.C., this morning.

Senator Edwards emphasized his regional appeal yesterday, alluding to previous statements from Senator Kerry in which the race s new front-runner suggested that a Democrat could win the White House without electoral votes from the South. Mr. Edwards called that “a very risky choice,” with no precedent in successful Democratic presidential campaigns.

“I was born in South Carolina. I have family in South Carolina. I will not forget South Carolina after Feb. 3,” Senator Edwards pledged to a relatively small but enthusiastic crowd.

Drawing on his standard stump speech, he offered a populist indictment of the “two Americas” he sees fostered by administration policies on education, health care, and taxes.

Mr. Edwards also emphasized the need for this state and the nation to confront the heritage of racism. “This is not an African-American issue. It is an American issue,” he said to the crowd s applause.

Senator Edwards shrugged off the reports of Mr. Clyburn s imminent embrace of Mr. Kerry. “I think that most of his supporters and his organization are with us,” he insisted.

Speaking to reporters after his 25-minute speech, Mr. Edwards repeated that a victory here is essential for his presidential bid to go on.

He insisted that he was not interested in the vice presidential nomination.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O Toole is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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