Published on Wednesday, February 4, 2004 by Reuters
Kerry Rolls to Five Wins; But Edwards, Clark Fight On
by John Whitesides
WASHINGTON - Democratic front-runner John Kerry took a huge stride toward the presidential nomination on Tuesday with wins in five states, but victories by John Edwards and Wesley Clark kept the race alive.
Kerry, riding a wave of momentum from back-to-back wins in the first two contests last month, won in Missouri, Arizona, Delaware, North Dakota and New Mexico as seven states voted on the biggest day yet in the race to find a challenger to President Bush.
Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, and Clark, a retired general, scored wins in South Carolina and Oklahoma, respectively, throwing up at least temporary speed bumps on Kerry's cruise to the nomination.
Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, was shut out on Tuesday and pulled out of the race, saying "the judgment of the voters is now clear."
Fallen front-runner Howard Dean also went zero-for-Tuesday, but put a brave face on his poor showing and promised to keep "going and going and going."
Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam veteran who had faced questions about whether he could compete nationwide, answered with strong finishes in seven states in the South, East, West and Midwest.
"Now we will carry this campaign and the cause of a stronger, fairer, more prosperous America to every part of America," Kerry said at a victory rally in Seattle.
"We will take nothing for granted, we will compete everywhere, and in November, we will beat George W. Bush," he said.
Clark, the former commander of NATO and a political novice, scored a narrow win over Edwards in Oklahoma, where he led by 1,300 votes with all precincts reporting.
"As an old soldier from Arkansas, I couldn't be prouder of your support in this first election I've ever won," Clark told supporters in Oklahoma City.
The double-digit victory by Edwards in South Carolina, which he labeled a must-win state, and his strong showing in Oklahoma boosted his argument he would provide the strongest opponent to Bush in rural areas and in the South.
"Tonight you said that the politics of lifting people up beats the politics of tearing people down," Edwards, who emphasized a positive message focused on the economy, told roaring supporters in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.
"Today we said clearly to the American people that in our country, in our America, everything is possible," Edwards said.
A total of 269 delegates to July's nominating convention were at stake in the seven states voting on Tuesday, with 2,162 needed to win the nomination.
KERRY TAKES DELEGATE LEAD
According to early delegate projections by MSNBC, Kerry picked up at least 88 delegates on Tuesday for a total of 201. Edwards picked up 59 for a total of 100, putting him in third place behind Dean, who picked up 3 for 117. Clark picked up 24 for a total of 55.
Lieberman had been hoping for a win in Delaware, but dropped out after meeting with staff members and conferring with his family.
"I have decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America," Lieberman said at a rally near his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Tuesday's votes offered the first nationwide test for the candidates, who spent almost all of January battling in Iowa and New Hampshire, largely white and rural states that hosted the first two nominating tests.
South Carolina was the first contest in the South and the first in a state with a large black population, while Arizona and New Mexico hold the first contests in states with large Hispanic populations.
Kerry, whose rise has been fueled by a belief among Democratic voters that he offers the best chance to beat Bush in November, pointed to public opinion polls that showed him leading Bush in a one-on-one matchup.
Network exit polls showed Democrats across the country rallied to Kerry because they thought he could beat Bush. They cited the economy, jobs and health care as their biggest concerns, with Iraq and fears of terror receding.
The race moves next to Michigan and Washington on Saturday, Maine on Sunday, and Virginia and Tennessee next Tuesday.
Dean, struggling to halt his downward slide after dismal finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, continued his string of poor showings on Tuesday. A close third place in New Mexico was the strongest finish for Dean.
Dean, who spent election night in Washington, looked ahead to Michigan, Washington and to a Feb. 17 showdown in Wisconsin. He promised to push ahead into March.
"We are going to have a tough night tonight," Dean told supporters in Tacoma, Washington, but promised the state's contest on Saturday would be "a turning point" for his fading campaign.
While Tuesday offered a rich harvest of delegates to the nominating convention, only about 10 percent of the total delegates were allocated by the end of the night.
Dean, Edwards and Clark hope to extend the race to March 2, when huge, delegate-rich states like New York and California vote.
© 2004 Reuters Ltd