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Edwards surprised by strong showing

North Carolina senator says results prove he can beat Bush

Edwards addresses supporters Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
Edwards addresses supporters Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

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Sen. John Edwards thanks supporters for his strong Wisconsin showing.
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CNN's Judy Woodruff wraps up the Wisconsin primary results.
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(CNN) -- Sen. John Edwards said he was surprised to see how much his support surged on election day in the Wisconsin primary.

Edwards, of North Carolina, was projected to place second in a close race. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was projected to win by an unexpectedly narrow margin.

"Today, the voters in Wisconsin sent a clear message," Edwards told his supporters after the polls closed. "The message was this: 'Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear.' "

The remark received loud cheers from the crowd.

"No, the people of Wisconsin spoke loudly and clearly today," Edwards continued. "They want a debate. They want this campaign to continue. They want someone who will stand up and fight for them and fight for their jobs."

With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Edwards had 35 percent of the vote. He trailed Kerry by 4 percentage points.

Edwards told CNN that his momentum surprised even him.

"I'm not surprised by the surge. We've surged in a lot of states at the end, when people got a close look at me and my campaign. But I am surprised by the strength of it," he said.

Polls in the final days of the campaign showed Kerry with a comfortable lead. Before Tuesday, Kerry had won 15 of the first 17 nominating contests. Edwards won his native state of South Carolina February 3. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark won Oklahoma in a tight race with Edwards the same day.

Clark has since abandoned the race and endorsed Kerry.

CNN exit polls show Edwards had his strongest support among independent voters in the state's open primary.

Edwards said those results indicate he would have a greater appeal in November's general election against President Bush.

"I think it means I can beat George Bush," Edwards told CNN. "If we're going to win the general election we're going to have to get independents, and this is another in a long series of examples of me being much more attractive to independent voters."

The campaign moves next to contests in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah on February 24.

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