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Edwards, Clark see Tenn., Va. as key

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina yesterday exchanged heated verbal volleys as they campaigned across Tennessee, a state both Southern-born candidates view as an electoral prize that could establish one of them as the lone populist challenger to front-runner John F. Kerry.


Tennessee and Virginia have become the new South Carolina for Edwards, states he has all but proclaimed he must win for his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination to move forward. Edwards has scheduled stops in both state every day until the vote on Tuesday. Clark, too, is banking on these states, especially Tennessee, which adjoins his native Arkansas.

Clark's strategy is to portray himself as an outsider, and Kerry and Edwards as Washington insiders. Clark has taken aim especially at Edwards, hoping to use a Tennessee victory to steal some of the attention that Edwards generated with his South Carolina victory Tuesday.

Kerry and Edwards have "spent months on the campaign trail criticizing George W. Bush and his reckless policies, when in the 107th Congress, both men voted with the president almost 70 percent of the time," Clark said yesterday.

Edwards called Clark's comments "the kind of petty sniping that people are sick of," adding, "I think what General Clark should be talking about is what he wants to do for the country."

Edwards is airing television ads in Tennessee and Virginia, one of them prominently mentioning his blue-collar childhood in South Carolina. He also has radio spots running on black-oriented stations. In recent campaign stops in Tennessee, Edwards has sharpened his populist theme, proclaiming himself a skeptic of free trade and even flirting with 1970s-style protectionism.

Edwards, who lived in Nashville for three years in the late '70s as a newly minted lawyer, yesterday announced endorsements from about 200 Tennessee officials, mostly local legislators and clergy. In addition, several weeks ago, a coalition of 19 well-known black ministers in the state endorsed him. In 2003, Edwards visited Tennessee seven times, more than any other candidate. From Nashville, Edwards flew yesterday to campaign rallies in Roanoke, Va., with a scheduled return to the eastern half of Tennessee today. Clark stumped in eastern Tennessee yesterday, campaigning in the befogged and rain-swept region to keep his candidacy alive.

While five political contests occur in the next five days -- Michigan and Washington tomorrow, Maine on Sunday, and Tennessee and Virginia on Tuesday -- Clark will spend the bulk of those days in the Volunteer State, which his campaign strategists view as his best opportunity to survive this round of contests.

"Your vote here is going to be decisive because the person who wins Tennessee is going to go on" and could be the next president, Clark told supporters at a rally in Manchester, Tenn. He later added that he would not promise to withdraw if he did not win Tennessee.

Clark, a late entry to the Democratic field, skipped the Iowa caucuses and placed third in New Hampshire. Despite early talk of a national strategy, he focused almost exclusively on Oklahoma as his best chance to advance. He won there, but only by 1,200 votes over Edwards. A strong showing in Tennessee would keep him going until Wisconsin's primary on Feb. 17. Clark adviser Chris Lehane said, "Our intention is to win in Tennessee, go on to fight like a badger in Wisconsin, and put ourselves in the position to be able to win when the vast majority of delegates are selected in early March."

The strategy is modeled after the one Bill Clinton used in 1992, Lehane said. That year, Clinton lost nine of 13 contests before a strong showing on Super Tuesday propelled him to the Democratic presidential nomination and ultimately the White House. But Clark may have trouble surviving until March. Polls taken in Tennessee before last Tuesday's votes indicated that Kerry had a narrow lead over Clark, who was just ahead of Edwards. On Wednesday, Clark's campaign staff agreed to forgo salaries for the week, about $250,000, so that the money could be used for advertising in Tennessee. Clark denied that his campaign is facing serious financial difficulties. Robert Schlesinger can be reached at Raja Mishra can be reached at

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