GREENVILLE, S.C. — John Edwards and Wesley Clark hoped to prevent front-runner John Kerry from sweeping the seven states with delegate elections Tuesday while Howard Dean looked ahead to another day to rejuvenate his faltering campaign for president.
"I'm going to win South Carolina," Edwards said on a morning news program. "Not only that, I expect to do well in other states today.
And I expect to be the Democratic nominee because I believe I will prove in South Carolina today and in Oklahoma and other states that I'm the candidate who can appeal all across America."
Each of the leading candidates claims to be the only one capable of defeating President Bush in November. The states with primaries or caucuses -- Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina -- likely will narrow the field or, at the least, shake up the strategies of those who fail to win delegates.
With Kerry leading in polls in five states and virtually tied with Clark in Oklahoma, Edwards was counting on a victory in South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary to keep his own campaign alive and raise questions about Kerry's strength. Clark was relying on respectable showings in Arizona and New Mexico to propel his campaign into the next round of contests.
Dean's campaign, which has severely cut back on spending, laid off more staff as Dean trailed everywhere in the first day of multistate primaries and caucuses.
Joe Lieberman contended Tuesday he was not considering any decision on the future of his campaign should he not win a single election. Instead, he looked to Delaware for a victory and conservative states in the South and West for good showings to sustain his pitch that he is the moderate Democrat in the race.
"Today's the voter's day and I put my trust in them as I always have, and I'm ready to be respectful of their decision," Lieberman said Tuesday.
The major candidates were scattered around the country: Edwards, his voice hoarse and battling a head cold, awaited returns in Columbia. Kerry and Dean were in Washington state, site of caucuses on Saturday. Lieberman planned last-minute campaigning in Delaware before going to Washington, D.C. Clark was in Oklahoma.
Election officials in South Carolina dropped the requirement for voters to sign an oath binding them to the Democratic Party. Strategists said the decision could increase turnout of black voters, a bloc trending toward Kerry, because oaths carry a stigma of times past when poll taxes and literacy tests kept minorities from voting.
The move could benefit Edwards, who, according to polls, attracts South Carolina's independent voters, they said.
Edwards, who has promised to run a positive campaign, criticized Kerry's acceptance of contributions from lobbyists and free-trade policies that Edwards claimed cost American jobs, particularly in trade-devastated South Carolina.
Said Kerry on Monday: "Edwards says he's the only one who can win states in the South. He can't win his own state." A Kerry aide later said the remark was in response to public polling suggesting Bush would win North Carolina in the November election.
Edwards responded: "I am the only Democratic presidential candidate in the field who has a proven record of being able to win the type of tough states Democrats will need to win in the general election and I will do it again tomorrow."
"This is not the time for on-the-job training," Kerry told South Carolina reporters Monday via satellite from Albuquerque, N.M.
Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie, visiting Edwards' home state, said the senator "gets 40 percent of his campaign contributions from trial lawyers at the same time he is blocking tort reform and medical liability reform legislation."
Dean, who just three weeks ago was considered the race's front-runner, has not been advertising in the seven states voting Tuesday. He also decided against advertising in Michigan, a delegate-rich state holding caucuses Saturday. He likely will to forgo advertising in Washington state, Maine, Tennessee and Virginia.