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Georgia race recap
Edwards stressed his Southern roots and economic policies while campaigning in Georgia.
Edwards stressed his Southern roots and economic policies while campaigning in Georgia.
Edwards falls in best shot at March 2 win

(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry eked out a victory in the March 2 Georgia primary, dashing Sen. John Edwards' best chance at a Super Tuesday win.

As the Democratic primary season rolled along, the implications of the Peach State primary had loomed increasingly large for the senator from North Carolina.

Edwards frequently touted himself as the Democrats' best chance to beat President Bush in the South, and thus nationally.

But before Super Tuesday, he had won just one of three Southern primary states -- South Carolina, where he was born -- while losing Tennessee and Virginia to Sen. John Kerry.

And his fortunes did not improve on March 2, as Kerry earned a narrow win in Georgia. Edwards withdrew from the race the next day in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Edwards had faced an uphill battle heading into the state primary, with Georgia polls showing Kerry leading. The former trial lawyer was hoping for a last-minute surge to win the Peach State. He had banked on the same strategy elsewhere, especially in Iowa and Wisconsin, where he rallied late to finish a close second to Kerry.

As Edwards campaigned hard in Georgia, the senator from Massachusetts gave little indication he was taking his chief Democratic rival lightly and took the offensive in the Peach State.

He spent most of his weekend after his February 17 Wisconsin primary win stumping in Atlanta with civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. The four-term senator addressed large audiences in the upscale community of Buckhead and attended services at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor.

Edwards, meanwhile, focused on Georgia, along with Ohio, Minnesota and New York heading into Super Tuesday. The 10 states with March 2 contests had 1,151 delegates -- more than half the number needed to win the Democratic nomination in July.

Besides his economy-centered stump speech, Edwards emphasized his Southern roots in citing Georgia as well as North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana as states Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore lost in 2000 but the party's nominee could win this year.

The one-term senator made several stops in the Peach State after the Wisconsin contest, spending parts of five days in Atlanta, Albany, Columbus and Savannah. Georgia's most recent Democratic governor, Roy Barnes, not only endorsed Edwards but headed up his state campaign.

With Edwards generally sticking to his optimistic message, Georgia voters heard barbs directed at Kerry from the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ten days before the primary, Republicans took a tactic from Sen. Saxby Chambliss' 2002 upset win over incumbent Max Cleland by painting Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, as soft on defense.

In a conference call with reporters -- paid for by Bush's campaign -- the senator from Georgia said Kerry consistently voted to cut defense and intelligence funding. Kerry snapped back a day later, accusing Chambliss and, in turn, Bush of impugning his patriotism.

Cleland, who lost three limbs in a grenade explosion in Vietnam, campaigned nationwide for the Massachusetts senator and appeared, along with Lewis, in Kerry TV ads in Georgia. Fellow veteran Wesley Clark, for five months a rival contender for the party nomination, also stumped for the Massachusetts senator in Columbus, Macon and Albany.

An American Research Group poll, based on interviews with 600 Georgians on February 23 and 24, showed Kerry with a slim 8-percentage point lead -- 45 percent to 37 percent -- over his North Carolina counterpart. Eleven percent said they were undecided, while the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich got minimal support.

Another poll, conducted over the same period for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, gave the Massachusetts legislator a bigger advantage (39 to 23 percent), but noted a substantial 21 percent of respondents said they had not made up their minds.

In that survey, Kerry did particularly well among Democrats and African-Americans while Edwards rated highest among Republicans and independents -- both of whom could vote in Georgia's open primary.

A nonbinding referendum on the state flag, the subject of considerable controversy in recent years over the inclusion of Confederate symbols, was also on the March 2 ballot. Georgia voters resoundingly backed a flag design proposed in 2003 and based on the the first national flag of the Confederacy.

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