Kerry wraps up nomination

Edwards scraps plans, heads home to N.C.

Ex-candidate Dean wins Vt.

Bush calls Mass. senator to offer congratulations

Election 2004 -- Super Tuesday

March 03, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Sen. John Kerry effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination last night, racking up decisive primary victories, including in Maryland, that led his rival Sen. John Edwards to signal that he's quitting the race.

Kerry achieved a near sweep of the 10 coast-to-coast Super Tuesday contests - the biggest nomination fight to date - with a huge haul of delegates up for grabs. Among others, his victories included California, New York, Georgia and the pivotal battleground state of Ohio.

The results marked the culmination of a two-month winning streak for Kerry. After a sluggish showing in early polls, he surged ahead of his rivals with early victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. Scoring high with Democrats who said their top priority was defeating President Bush, Kerry then built a powerful momentum that deprived his opponents of the chance to gain a foothold in the race.

"Before us lie long months of effort and of challenge," a hoarse Kerry told jubilant supporters assembled in downtown Washington's Old Post Office Pavilion. "Together, we are equal to this task. I am a fighter."

Edwards scrapped plans to campaign and instead headed home to Raleigh, N.C., where he is expected to announce today that he is abandoning his bid.

His withdrawal will clear the way for Kerry to seize the party's nomination and kick off a new phase in the presidential campaign, pitting the Massachusetts senator against the incumbent president in an intensive eight-month slugfest.

Bush called Kerry from the White House last night to congratulate him on winning the nomination "against a tough field," said Scott Stanzel, a Bush campaign spokesman.

During the brief call, the president "said that he was looking forward to a spirited race," Stanzel said. Kerry thanked the president, said he also looked forward to the campaign and told Bush that he hoped the two could "keep it to the issues."

Kerry's victories last night apparently persuaded Edwards to abandon his bid, after a two-week push that focused on Georgia, Minnesota and Ohio as opportunities for breakthrough victories that might save his candidacy.

In the end, Edwards lost all those contests to Kerry. And with just one victory under his belt - in his native Carolina - the North Carolina senator faced intense pressure to withdraw and to cede the nomination to Kerry.

"I am proud of the fact that you and I, together, have brought these issues back to the American debate: race equality, civil rights, poverty," Edwards told a roomful of cheering supporters last night in Atlanta, stopping just short of conceding. "We have been the little engine that could, and I am proud of what we've done."

The one-term senator had said in recent days that he would stay in the running even if he failed to win any of the Super Tuesday matchups. But with Kerry collecting a hefty share of delegates from yesterday's wins and no additional victories in Edwards' column, it seemed impossible for his campaign to survive.

Howard Dean, who dropped out of the race last month after plummeting from wealthy frontrunner to cash-strapped long shot, won his home state of Vermont, where his name remained on the ballot and devoted supporters made a show of loyalty for their former governor.

Kerry also claimed victories in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Many Democrats had pushed hard for Edwards to bow out of the race if he failed to upset Kerry in yesterday's crucial slate of races. They are eager to put the intra-party contests behind them and pour their resources into beating Bush in November.

"We need to get a nominee," Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman, told CNN. "We need to be unified, organized, getting our message out there."

Bush is to begin airing his first television ads tomorrow - his campaign's first real opportunity to answer the harsh criticism Democrats have piled atop the president throughout the primary process.

"There's now about to be a two-way conversation. We're now going to talk about the clear choice that Americans will face on Nov. 2, 2004," Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, told CNN yesterday. "The American people have a very important choice to make."

Democrats said they were ecstatic over Kerry's near sweep of the Super Tuesday states - a sign, they said, he is a consensus candidate with national appeal.

"We have a person who we think is the best to be president and the best to beat George Bush," Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat and Kerry backer, said last night from a primary night party at an Inner Harbor hotel. "Democrats have never been more united."

Edwards' intense competition with Kerry over the past two weeks - and the months of contention that winnowed the Democratic field from 10 candidates to one - has strengthened the party, Cardin said. "The loyalty factor now for our candidate is much stronger," he said.

Kerry thanked his chief primary rival for a "remarkably gracious, powerful" speech and said Edwards has a bright future.

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