RALEIGH, N.C. — John Edwards was back on the campaign trail Wednesday with renewed energy.
In his eyes, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is a two-man race between Edwards and leader John Kerry.
Edwards won the South Carolina primary with a commanding lead. In Oklahoma, the votes ended with Edwards in a virtual tie with Wesley Clark.
Edwards still faces tough competition; Kerry dominates the field of contenders. But Edwards' campaign has gone to Tennesee and Virginia with a newfound enthusiasm.
Edwards' birth state gave him a victory he absolutely had to have,
as well as a powerful shot in the arm.
"It makes him a legitimate candidate because he can say: 'I won,'" political analyst David McLennan said. "And although he did well in Iowa, he couldn't make that claim."
Edwards' campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, said the victory did more than that.
"It reinforces that Edwards is a winner and can do well in places the Democrats have to win to win a general election," Turlington said.
Turlington said the result comes in the form of instantaneous rewards -- like stepped-up media coverage as Edwards hit the ground running, and at his campaign office in Raleigh, where a flood of phone calls offering thousands of new dollars for his coffers came in on Wednesday.
Edwards credits his success largely to his message.
"I think actually what's happening is people are responding to this positive message about how we use fresh ideas to solve a lot of the old problems in our country," Edwards said.
Said McClennon: "His message about two cities, or two countries, is a very powerful message for those who are unemployed and feel disadvantaged by the Bush administration's economic policies."
Analysts believe time will tell if Edwards' message resonates not only in South Carolina, but in other states as well.
For his part, Edwards plans to concentrate on Tennessee and Virginia, which hold their primaries next Tuesday. Michigan, Washington State and Maine come before that, and Edwards may visit at least one of those states.
Edwards campaigned in Memphis, Tenn., and Norfolk, Va., Wednesday. He said he is ready for the political battle ahead.
"I've been getting ready for this fight my whole life," he said.
Edwards goes before a national audience Wednesday night, when he can be seen on "The Late Show With David Letterman" running down Letterman's top-10 list.