Kerry breezes to victory across Maryland

Voters say they give Massachusetts senator best chance to beat Bush

`This country needs ... change'

Election 2004 -- Super Tuesday

March 03, 2004|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Sen. John Kerry sailed to victory yesterday in Maryland's presidential primary, breezing past rivals in every corner of the state as Democratic voters put the ability to win the White House this fall above nearly every other consideration.

The group of prominent Maryland Democrats who had endorsed the Massachusetts senator wasted no time last night turning their sights to the November election, particularly after word that Sen. John Edwards was quitting the race.

"This is the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said last night at a victory party at the Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel in Baltimore, where much of the state's congressional delegation joined 200 other Democrats in a boisterous celebration.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., elected two years ago as Maryland's first Republican governor since 1966, was quick to draw battle lines of his own. At a Republican celebration last night, he stopped short of forecasting a Bush win in Maryland in November, but predicted a fiercer fight here than at any time in recent memory.

"We believe we are viable in Maryland," Ehrlich said at the Governor Calvert House in Annapolis. "We need to energize conservative Democrats, business-minded Democrats and independents."

With 99 percent of Maryland precincts reporting last night, Kerry was leading Edwards 60 percent to 26 percent, one of the widest margins of the primary season.

Kerry held big leads over Edwards even in rural corners of the state, defying predictions that Edwards might carry some Eastern Shore and Western Maryland districts with large numbers of moderate voters.

Returns signaled that Edwards was headed for a particularly severe drubbing in Prince George's County, where Rep. Albert R. Wynn had endorsed Edwards in July and had campaigned aggressively as a co-chairman of his national campaign.

Of Edwards' decision to pull out of the race, Wynn said, "It's disappointing but this is politics, and this is a competitive process."

In interviews yesterday at the polls, voters said they liked Kerry's experience and saw him as a man of integrity, but voiced little gut-level passion for the Massachusetts senator and could provide few details about his policy positions.

Instead, they said they went with Kerry on the belief that he was the Democrats' best chance to defeat President Bush.

"Anything to get Bush out," John Shroyer, a retired machinist from Hampden who cast a vote for Kerry, said in a refrain heard across the region.

Kerry also seemed to have won over many former supporters of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Gen. Wesley K. Clark and Howard Dean, who towered over his rivals in a Maryland poll in January. All have dropped out the race.

Jeraldine Shelton, a retired mental health aide, had backed Dean until the former Vermont governor's infamous scream after his disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses.

"I wanted Dean until that yell made him look a little too unstable to be trusted with making big decisions," said Shelton, who voted for Kerry at Pimlico Elementary School in Baltimore.

"It was a process of elimination for me and this country needs a change in the White House," she said.

Political analysts had cast Prince George's County, a Washington suburb with the country's highest concentration of well-to-do African-Americans, as Edwards' best shot in Maryland.

But at polling stations in Prince George's yesterday, including one in the heart of Wynn's district, it was far easier to find Kerry voters. The others interviewed split more or less evenly between Edwards and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Ras Amon, 34, a systems administrator from Largo, said he knew Sharpton wouldn't win but hoped a vote for him would persuade Democrats to add some of the New Yorker's ideas to the party platform this summer. "I see the other guys as Bush-like," Amon said of Edwards and Kerry. "None of these guys is speaking for Roosevelt Democrats, except for [Dennis] Kucinich and Sharpton."

At Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Paula Rivers, a speech therapist at the school, said she voted for Kerry because, "I like his philosophy and yes, he was anti-Vietnam, but he served."

Otis and Tracey Johnson, a corrections officer and a therapist from Randallstown, said they both voted for Kerry, but thought hard about Edwards.

"It was a toss-up," said Otis Johnson, 38.

Edwards voters said that they were moved by his magnetic personality and his youth. Some just felt for the underdog.

"I just voted for Edwards to give him some votes, because he's hanging in there," said Kay Opher, 56, a teacher in Prince George's County.

Betty Williams, 46, of Columbia, who works for a surgical supply firm, said she voted for Edwards, in part, because "Kerry is boring."

But Kerry's sober manner sat fine with many of his loyalists.

"He has the gravitas required at a serious time for the country," said Steven Abrams, 47, who voted in North Baltimore.

Sun staff writers Ryan Davis, Doug Donovan, Reginald Fields, Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Larry Carson, Andrew A. Green, Mary Gail Hare, Ted Shelsby, Tom Pelton, and Jamie Stiehm, Capitol News Service reporters Danny Jacobs and Sara Clarke and Sun staff researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.

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