Kerry takes day off as others stump

Front-runner can afford breather before Wis. vote

Edwards looks to debate

February 13, 2004|By Kirsten Scharnberg and Rick Pearson | Kirsten Scharnberg and Rick Pearson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MILWAUKEE - Showing the clear advantages of his front-runner status, Sen. John Kerry remained in Washington to rest yesterday, receiving the news that one-time rival Wesley K. Clark would endorse him, while the other Democratic contenders campaigned vigorously in Wisconsin before leaving the state to raise much-needed money.

Kerry is to travel today to Madison, where Clark is expected to make his endorsement official.

The Wisconsin primary on Tuesday represents one of the last realistic chances for Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to derail Kerry, the winner of 12 of 14 contests as Democrats seek a presidential nominee.

Clark had one of the other victories, in the Oklahoma primary, while Edwards won in his native South Carolina.

The stakes are particularly high for Edwards, who many in the Democratic Party see as having a far better chance than Dean of overtaking Kerry - even though they concede that Edwards' chances are slender.

In Milwaukee, Edwards again spoke to voters about what quickly is becoming the new core of his campaign speech: the loss of American jobs to other nations as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The senator will meet today with soon-to-be-unemployed factory workers, a portion of the nearly 500 people who will be affected when an auto plant shifts production from Milwaukee to a plant in Mexico next year.

"We have to have a president who will fight for their jobs," Edwards said yesterday. "I mean, this is very personal for me. I grew up in a family where my father worked in a mill. I saw what happened when that mill closed, to my own community and to the families who were involved."

Edwards, who had vowed to campaign in Wisconsin every day until the primary Tuesday, planned to spend parts of yesterday and today in California.

He will attend campaign rallies there to send the signal that he intends to stay in the race regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin. He will also tape an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and attend at least one fund-raiser.

Edwards is portraying himself as the alternative to Kerry, asking the voters to act "independent-minded."

Further, Edwards is encouraging voters to watch him in a debate Sunday night. His campaign aides believe a strong showing could propel the state's nearly 18 percent of undecided voters to shift their support to the North Carolina senator.

"Now that this field is beginning to narrow, there will be more focus on myself and Senator Kerry in that debate," Edwards said after learning that Kerry had agreed to participate in the 90-minute televised debate.

"I want that debate. I want people to know what the differences are. I want them to know I come from the place that most Wisconsin voters come from - a working-class family."

Meanwhile, Dean brought his wife, Judy, back from Vermont for a full day of campaigning and vowed to continue his campaign regardless of the result in Wisconsin.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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