Democratic opponents hop nation to halt Kerry

Candidates play catch-up into Tuesday primaries

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

January 29, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ST. LOUIS - A triumphant Sen. John Kerry arrived in Missouri to throngs of well-wishers last night, hoping to solidify his role as Democratic front-runner as the race now widens with a series of state contests spread across the country.

The senator appeared to be basking in his decisive victory Tuesday in New Hampshire's presidential primary, which followed his triumph in the Iowa caucuses. Emboldened by a flurry of endorsements and sounding as though his nomination were all but inevitable, Kerry told an audience here: "We are not here to mark the six days before you get to vote in the primary. We are here to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency."

The Kerry campaign's gathering momentum was reflected, too, in the staff shake-up yesterday in Howard Dean's campaign, which signaled that Dean's team is struggling to save his candidacy before Kerry can put too much distance between the two men.

As the race for the Democratic nomination quickly rolls on, with seven contests on Tuesday, from Delaware to Missouri to Arizona, Kerry's six rivals face a severe test of their stamina, resources and voter appeal. They hope to knock off the Massachusetts senator in one or more states next week to remain serious challengers.

History is not on their side: The last two Democratic hopefuls who, like Kerry, won competitive contests in both Iowa and New Hampshire - Jimmy Carter and Al Gore - marched on to win the nomination.

On Kerry's heels yesterday was Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who finished in a near-tie for third in New Hampshire with retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, with about 12 percent of the vote. After campaigning yesterday in South Carolina and Oklahoma, Edwards made two stops in Missouri.

Time zone hopping will become a new dynamic of the campaign. Gone will be the up-close, door-to-door politics of Iowa and New Hampshire. There, candidates could devote their attention to the same state for days in a row. An appearance in one small town, if it was a big hit, might sway enough voters to nudge the polls.

But with numerous far-flung states holding primaries or caucuses in coming days and weeks, the candidates will be speaking to a broader audience, in large part via television. And they will be forced to decide where and how to deploy their time, money and resources.

All along, the South Carolina primary on Tuesday was expected to be the marquee contest of the day, and it still may be.

Missouri, with the most delegates at stake Tuesday - 74 - was long considered a sidelight, a state that would be easily carried by its favorite son, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt. But it suddenly became a battleground once Gephardt dropped out last week, and the campaigns have scurried to organize here.

Nathan Ballard, an official with the Clark campaign who was dispatched to Missouri from New Hampshire the day before the primary there, has set up his office, of sorts, in a room at a Radisson hotel outside St. Louis. Campaign headquarters, with its phone banks and volunteers, is borrowed space at a real estate office up the street from Ballard's room. There's simply no time, Ballard said, to establish the traditional storefront-style command post.

Geography stands as both a challenge and an opportunity as the campaigns weigh where they might pick up a victory next week. Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, with overwhelmingly white voters, many of the states with forthcoming contests have sizable numbers of minority voters. Political analysts generally agree - and the Democratic national chairman, Terry McAuliffe, has suggested - that any candidate without a victory after Tuesday might as well fold.

At his rally yesterday in St. Louis, Kerry was joined by two former Missouri senators, Jean Carnahan and Thomas Eagleton, and by Gov. Tom Vilsack of neighboring Iowa, all of whom support him.

In addition, Kerry received the endorsement this week of Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The governors of Michigan and Arizona are also reportedly close to lining up behind the Massachusetts senator.

Dean, the former Vermont governor who finished a distant second in New Hampshire but appeared to gain back some of the momentum he lost after the Iowa caucuses, said on NBC yesterday morning, before the news of his staff shake-up, that "we did what we had to do" in New Hampshire.

"We play in every primary to win," Dean said. "Of course, we can't win them all."

Dean was scheduled to arrive in Missouri later this week. But, unlike his rivals, he is also looking past Tuesday, planning to focus some attention on Michigan, which holds its primary later that week.

After a weak fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut shuttled off yesterday to Oklahoma, which also holds a primary on Tuesday. The Rev. Al Sharpton made several appearances in St. Louis.

As the clear front-runner, Kerry will now be testing his appeal in states that might seem less favorable to a New Englander. Aides to the other candidates said they believe that more moderate voters in states like South Carolina and Missouri who favor gun rights and some socially conservative positions might frown on Kerry's record as too liberal.

At Kerry's St. Louis rally, several voters said they remained undecided and were drawn to see Kerry mostly because of the attention he received in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"I want to see someone beat Bush," said Mike Silverman, a 32-year-old teacher. "And I'm excited about his momentum."

Sun staff writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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