- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

TUCSON, Ariz. — Sen. John Kerry is poised for first- or second-place finishes in all seven Democratic primaries and caucuses today, while the other six candidates are just hoping to win a few states and halt his momentum.

After wins in Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary, Mr. Kerry has assumed the air of the nominee-to-be. The Massachusetts senator has all but abandoned his focus on the six other candidates and has turned his attention fully on President Bush and the general election in November.

“I am here today not on a countdown for the primaries, but I am here to mark with you the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency,” Mr. Kerry told a crowd of more than 2,000 people who turned out yesterday with blankets and lawn chairs for an outdoor rally in Tucson.

The seven states at stake today constitute 269 delegates and include the first test in the South by way of the primary in South Carolina; two contests in the heartland, via Oklahoma and Missouri primaries; and the first Southwest trials, in Arizona’s primary and New Mexico’s caucuses. Delaware also holds a primary, and North Dakota holds caucuses.

South Carolina is the first contest in a state with a significant black voter population, while New Mexico and Arizona provide Hispanic voters their first chance to play a major role this year.

Only Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has set a clear benchmark, saying he must win South Carolina to remain viable. The other candidates all have promised to soldier on, regardless of the outcome.

But Mr. Kerry is hoping for close to a clean sweep, which would give him nearly insurmountable momentum and fund-raising power.

The Zogby-MSNBC-Reuters tracking polls released yesterday showed Mr. Kerry leading in the two biggest races, Arizona with 55 delegates and Missouri with 74. In Missouri, the poll showed him with 50 percent support, far outpacing second-place Mr. Edwards at 15 percent.

Mr. Edwards held a slim lead over Mr. Kerry in South Carolina, worth 45 delegates, while Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, held a statistically insignificant lead over Mr. Kerry in Oklahoma, worth 40 delegates.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was the front-runner until he finished third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, is polling no better than third in any of those four states.

Mr. Kerry’s bounce even has him ahead of Mr. Bush in a head-to-head matchup, according to two more polls released yesterday.

The Massachusetts senator led Mr. Bush by 54 percent to 46 percent in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll and by 51 percent to 43 percent in a survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

A Newsweek poll released last weekend showed Mr. Kerry with a 48 percent to 46 percent lead, the first to put Mr. Bush behind a specific Democratic challenger.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe has said candidates who have not won a state after today probably should drop out of the field.

But Mr. Dean has promised to continue regardless of his showing, hoping to outlast the other candidates and end up in a one-on-one contest with Mr. Kerry by the middle of this month.

Mr. Dean’s new campaign manager, Roy Neel, released another memo late Sunday night telling supporters the campaign is on track.

“The next two weeks will turn this into a two-man race, and we are really pumped for it. We can’t wait to get John Kerry one-on-one,” he said on the campaign’s Web log, www.blogforamerica.com.

Nothing symbolizes Mr. Kerry’s rise and Mr. Dean’s fall so clearly as their appearances in Tucson.

Both men held rallies in Reid Park, right next to the spring-training home of baseball’s Colorado Rockies. But in a city that bills itself as the nation’s sunniest, Mr. Dean’s Saturday morning outdoor event was under an overcast sky, while Mr. Kerry’s yesterday was under a brilliant sun and blue sky.

“I’ve been campaigning in Iowa, I’ve been campaigning in New Hampshire. I was in North Dakota; it was 4 degrees. This is the first time I’ve had my coat off, standing in the sun, and thank you, Arizona,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Edwards campaigned in South Carolina, trying to draw a further distinction between himself and Mr. Kerry by echoing other candidates’ criticism of Mr. Kerry’s ties to lobbyists.

“I don’t take contributions from lobbyists, and he obviously does,” Mr. Edwards told reporters after a rally in Charleston.

The Rev. Al Sharpton also campaigned in South Carolina, where he vowed to stick through the whole nomination process.

“I’m not weary at all. I’m leaving here Wednesday morning, heading to Michigan, and then to Virginia,” he said while campaigning in Charleston. “I’m going to be in this all the way to Boston.”

The other candidates all headed west, ending with appearances before the League of United Latin American Citizens in Phoenix.

For his part, Mr. Clark told the audience he is the best candidate to defeat the president.

“I am one tough hombre and I [would] beat George Bush,” he said.

Mr. Kerry told the Hispanic group that Mr. Bush’s recent immigration proposal “is an insult.”

“It’s a cheap-labor program,” he said.

Mr. Dean has been the harshest in his charges that Mr. Kerry’s Washington-lobbyist ties make him a poor choice for the nomination, and has taken to calling the senator “cash-and-Kerry” in press releases. Yesterday, men were handing out unsigned fliers repeating the charges at Mr. Kerry’s Tucson rally.

But Mr. Neel, Mr. Dean’s campaign manager, now is defending himself in a memo for his own past as a Democratic lobbyist. He bristled at the charge that he himself is one of those “Washington insiders.”

“I’m not even sure what that term means,” he said in the Sunday memo. “Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with being an advocate for corporate or public interests in Washington. But when public officials make policy decisions, award contracts, or provide inordinate access as a result of contributions or questionable relationships, the public good — and our democracy — suffer.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut also is competing, though polls haven’t shown him catching on in many states. Mr. Lieberman has expended particular effort in Delaware.

Mr. Lieberman is already looking ahead to the next two rounds of contests. He will end up tomorrow night in Virginia, ready to begin his pitch in a state that holds its primary on Feb. 10. Tennessee also holds its primary next week.

Brian DeBose contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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