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US Election: Polls Show Edwards Holds Slight Lead Over Kerry in Key Southern State - 2004-02-02

The latest polling from the state of South Carolina shows North Carolina Senator John Edwards with a narrow lead over Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, ahead of Tuesday's Democratic Party primary in the state. Mr. Edwards says he has to win in South Carolina to stay in the presidential race.

Polls show John Edwards holding a narrow but statewide lead over John Kerry in the first southern state to hold a primary so far this year.

Mr. Edwards, a wealthy lawyer and senator from neighboring North Carolina was born here, and has spent much of his campaign in South Carolina reminding voters that he comes from a family of lower middle class mill workers - in contrast to what he describes as Mr. Kerry's privileged upbringing as the son of a U.S. diplomat in Europe.

South Carolina has lost more than 60,000 jobs over the past few years. Many of the lost jobs were in the textile manufacturing sector which has been unable to compete with foreign competition. Walter Edgar, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, says Mr. Edwards' message appears to resonate with voters facing hard times.

"Working class, middle class white males who have been voting Republican for the last few elections, many of them associated with the textile industry are now out of work," he said. "It is interesting in the tracking polls, before our state primary, Edwards is doing very, very well upstate, at least in the tracking polls. That is the area where there is fairly high unemployment in the white community."

For his part Mr. Kerry, a Vietnam war hero, has been spending his time in areas where there are high concentrations of military veterans. With 400,000 veterans, South Carolina has the highest proportion of veterans in the country. Walter Edgar, of the University of South Carolina, says they appear to making Mr. Kerry competitive in the state.

"This is a state where defense is a positive issue," he said. "Looking at the polls in areas where there are a lot of veterans in and around Charleston, and in the Columbia area, Kerry seems to be tracking well."

Former General Wesley Clark is also expected to benefit from support coming the military community, both active duty and retired.

African-Americans will make up more than 50 percent of Democratic primary voters Tuesday, and they are expected to give a boost to the candidacy of civil rights activist Al Sharpton. However recent polls show no one candidate getting overwhelming support from the black community.

Former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman are trailing far back in the polls. All three have virtually given up campaigning in South Carolina, concentrating their efforts in other states where they are considered to have more support.