Kerry wins big as rivals fight on

Mass. senator captures 5 of 7 states contested, shows his broad appeal

Lieberman drops from race

Edwards takes S.C.

Clark wins in Okla.

Dean no better than 3rd

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

February 04, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry marched closer to the Democratic nomination for president, winning five of seven state contests yesterday, though Sen. John Edwards captured the key Southern state of South Carolina and emerged as perhaps the leading threat to Kerry in a race that is clearly not over.

In Oklahoma, retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark eked out a razor-thin victory over Edwards, with Kerry finishing third.

The result gave a much-needed boost to Clark, who had pinned his hopes for his first win on the state that borders his home state of Arkansas.

Still, Kerry's victories -- spanning the nation from Delaware to Missouri and North Dakota, to Arizona and New Mexico, with their sizable Hispanic populations -- served as the first tangible sign of the Massachusetts senator's national appeal. He was the only candidate who managed to win last night in a region outside his own.

Kerry played down Edwards' success in South Carolina, saying the North Carolina senator had heavily outspent him and campaigned far longer.

"I am running a national campaign," Kerry said, suggesting that Edwards was not.

"For the second time in a few days, a New England patriot has won on the road," Kerry told exuberant supporters in Seattle, where the front-runner is looking ahead to Washington state's primary on Saturday.

He added: "We will take nothing for granted, and we will compete everywhere. And in November, with your help, we will defeat George W. Bush."

Edwards won handily in South Carolina, where he went hoarse campaigning relentlessly in recent days, and where he said he had to finish at the top to remain a viable candidate. He called the result in his home state of South Carolina "a great political victory" and told a crowd of supporters, "Together we will change America."

He told CNN that he expects the Democratic race to begin focusing on Kerry and himself.

"South Carolina was a great test for winning in the South and winning rural voters," Edwards said.

Though Edwards was edged out by Clark in Oklahoma, his close second-place finish suggested that he can command support outside his native South.

The night dealt another setback to Howard Dean, who shook up his staff days ago in hopes of reversing his campaign's free fall. The former Vermont governor finished no better than third in any of the seven states contested yesterday, though he vowed to battle on in states such as Michigan and Washington state, where primaries will be held Saturday, and in Wisconsin, a week later.

For days, Dean has been looking ahead to those contests, all but conceding the seven held yesterday. His campaign began playing down the results from last night even before the polls closed.

"It looks like we're going to have a tough night," Dean told supporters at a rally in Tacoma, Wash. "We're going to pick up some delegates tonight, and it is all about who gets the most delegates in Boston in July, and it's going to be us."

The former governor renewed his criticism that rivals, including Kerry and Edwards, voted to authorize war in Iraq and supported President Bush's now heavily criticized legislation to reform public schools.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut ended his bid for the presidency after weak finishes across the board, including in Delaware, where he had held hopes of winning. Lieberman, who four years ago was paired with Al Gore on a national ticket that won the popular vote in the general election, tried to remain upbeat as he addressed supporters in Arlington, Va.

"I offered a mainstream voice," Lieberman said. "And I still believe that is the right choice and the winning choice for our party and for our country."

Lieberman said he will support the eventual Democratic nominee and "do whatever I can to deny George Bush a second term."

Clark had targeted Oklahoma, hoping his moderate message would play well with more socially conservative Democrats. His aides had hoped initially that he could find similar success in Missouri, which borders his home state of Arkansas. Clark will now turn his attention to Tennessee, beginning a bus tour in another state close to his own.

Celebrating his victory in Oklahoma last night, Clark, who spent a whopping $11 million on TV ads in the state to try to pull out a win, told supporters: "We've been here every day of the last week." He thanked them for handing him "the first election that I've ever won."

As expected, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio rounded out the pack with single-digit finishes everywhere. Sharpton, though, did attract some support in pockets of South Carolina, running in third place in the state according to early returns.

Any delegates won by Sharpton would mark a symbolic victory for his never-say-die campaign. Still, he captured only about one in five black voters in the state.

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