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Edwards Gears Up For Crucial Week, Debate With Kerry

Posted February 18, 2004

— John Edwards' showing in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary set the stage for a crucial week entering next week's Super Tuesday.

Edwards finished just six percentage points behind front-runner John Kerry in Wisconsin. Exit polls showed a large number of independents and Republicans voted for Edwards and contributed to his late surge in this race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ten states are up for grabs March 2. After Tuesday's showing, Edwards said he wants to debate Kerry before Super Tuesday. He has committed to a CNN/Los Angeles Times debate next week.

Wednesday night, CNN had not decided if other candidates will be invited. Either way, political onlookers said Edwards may have to change his campaign approach.

The political room at Edwards' campaign headquarters in Raleigh was hopping Wednesday. What is now a two-man race offered new dynamics and the chance to win over new supporters.

It also gave Edwards new obstacles to overcome as he tries to go from alternative choice to winner.

In a year in which national security and foreign policy are important to voters, Edwards must now portray himself as more than just a political outsider.

"John Edwards' youth and freshness might work against him in the year we are operating in," North Carolina State University political science professor Andy Taylor said. "And his senior status and foreign policy and national security credentials will certainly help Kerry."

Edwards is pushing for a one-on-one debate with Kerry to really get down to the issues.

"He's able to quickly summarize his positions and ideas, present them in a thoughtful and compelling way, and he knows these issues firsthand as someone who grew up on a struggling, middle-class family," Edwards campaign spokeswoman Kim Rubey said.

Taylor said a Kerry/Edwards debate can work in the North Carolina senator's favor. He said Edwards has a lot of charisma, and the debate will make the political newcomer seem like the only alternative to the frontrunner.

But Taylor said Edwards will need to alter his positive, upbeat campaign, adding that, in a two-man race, the opponent could accentuate Edwards' negatives, and Edwards must be able to react.

"You need to come back with a counterattack and take the focus off your weaknesses," Taylor said. "And I think it's inevitable, at some state, Edwards is going to have be brought into that type of dynamic."

So what must happen Super Tuesday for Edwards to continue in a tight race? Taylor said Edwards needs to win more than just the Southern state of Georgia to prove he is not just a regional candidate.

Edwards, meanwhile, knows he has a lot of work to do and people to convince. So, in the next few days, he will be racking up a lot of frequent flier miles. He starts Thursday morning in New York City, then travels to Atlanta for an afternoon appearance.

Edwards will begin Friday with a stop in Savannah, Ga. He will be in Maryland by noon, then finish the day in Albany, N.Y.

Saturday starts in Buffalo, then Minneapolis. Edwards will end the evening with an appearance in Cleveland.

That's eight cities and five states in the next three days -- all in preparation for Super Tuesday, when 1,151 delegates will be at stake. California has the most, with 370, followed by New York with 236.

A candidate needs about 2,200 delegates to win the nomination. Kerry has 608, Edwards 190.

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