John Edwards on the Campaign Trail

And in real breaking news, Edwards, senior traveling staff and press corps flew on an upgraded 737 airplane (mirrored walls, leg room, snacks, blankets!) straight to Memphis from Edwards' Columbia celebration headquarters. Gov. Dean is riding on Pearl Jam's vacated seats? The Edwards camp is filling those of Paul McCartney, Dave Mathews and an unnamed Saudi prince.

What time is it? Game time.

GREENVILLE, S.C., Feb. 2 — On lazy weekend afternoon last fall, John Edwards rode a trolley from a tailgate to a young Democrats campaign event in Columbia, S.C. Sunlight filtered in through open windows. It was warm enough to leave coats at home. The press secretary left the candidate unattended and the body man still had weekends off. On that typical Southern football Saturday, the candidate talked about the game and what he missed most.

"Friday night games," he said. After a week of seemingly endless practice on torn-up fields in preparation, he said he missed the smell of fresh-cut grass and the moment of culmination when his work, hours upon hours week in and week out, was truly tested.

Senator, welcome to your own Friday night game.

On the night before THE night for the Edwards campaign, the candidate arrived in a driving rain at the day's last event in Seneca, S.C., the town where he was born (50 years ago, Edwards reminds audiences) and the town that has, to varying but omnipresent degree, defined his entire campaign.

For a candidate who refuses to give public predictions or venture even the slightest hint of a guess at any outcome thus far, Edwards has bet the farm on winning South Carolina from day one.

And after fighting vigorously all week in an effort to ward off any threat posed by Senator Kerry and extinguish once and for all any significant challenge by Gen. Clark, Edwards' aides say they have more hope than they did earlier in the week that he will pull off a victory here on primary day.

A South Carolina win will be their ticket to Memphis, Tenn., and the launching pad for their Feb. 7 and 10 battle plans.

Speaking to a crowd that included extended family members, some of whom have been personally canvassing door-to-door, Edwards' voice was down to a hoarse whisper. One gets the sense he would rather be bellowing out a lengthy closing argument. Instead he began, "As you can see, I have been doing a lot of talking." Despite being "miked-up" for cameras, it seemed his voice was somewhat painful to hear for family and staffers alike.

Edwards started off by saying that on the way to the event he heard fantastic news. He cited the CNN poll showing him one point ahead of Bush in a national campaign as his parents, daughters Cate and Emma Claire, and Jack (perched on Elizabeth's shoulders) cheered him on to an abbreviated speech that ended in well less than 10 minutes.

Campaign staffers were eager to spin the positive news: in addition to Tennessee and Virginia, they have decided to play in Michigan due in part to public polling which has convinced them Edwards is more than viable in that state.

When it comes to Kerry, the campaign's message is a bit less than seamless. Palmieri argued that in the immediate post-New Hampshire aftermath, Kerry was convinced he could win in South Carolina but ultimately backed down when he realized Edwards would likely take it. Meanwhile as recently as Sunday Edwards characterized the challenge as a "dogfight."

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