- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

The Democratic presidential primary calendar for 2004 is nearing completion, and party officials are hoping their nominee will be all but chosen by mid-March or even earlier.

But as things look now in the nine-candidate field, it is more than likely that several candidates will emerge as winners in the first sets of party contests in January and February, and that could lengthen the battle for the nomination, though not by much, various campaign officials say.

According to the latest polls in the early primary states, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri has widened his lead in the Iowa caucuses and has 25 percent support. It is a contest he won in 1988, and as things stand now, it looks like he could prevail there again Jan. 19.

Still, Mr. Gephardt is not doing as well in New Hampshire, which will hold the nation’s first party primary Jan. 27. Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry has been the front-runner in his neighboring state, but now former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is breathing down his neck.

Several polls have shown them in a dead heat, and an upset by Mr. Dean, who is little known in the rest of the country, could undermine or slow Mr. Kerry’s movement in succeeding primaries.

Strategists for Mr. Gephardt, who is in third or fourth place, according to polls, hope Mr. Dean will inflict some damage on Mr. Kerry to slow his momentum.

“John Kerry must come out of New Hampshire with a very big margin or it won’t be looked on as a win at all,” said Jim Demers, a senior Gephardt strategist in the state.

Then comes a cluster of six primaries Feb. 3. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, a former vice presidential nominee, hopes to emerge with several victories. The contests include South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma, where Mr. Lieberman is showing some strength, plus Delaware, New Mexico and Missouri.

“We expect to do well in the Feb. 3 primaries and then move on from there toward Super Tuesday,” said a senior adviser to the Lieberman campaign.

The Lieberman adviser points to the 1992 campaign, when Sen. Tom Harkin won his home state of Iowa, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary, and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton went on to win in Georgia and other Southern primaries, and quickly clinched the nomination.

“You could have multiple winners up to a point. But if you look at the history of primaries, the reality is that the field narrows relatively quickly because it costs a lot of money to keep fighting in state after state,” the adviser said.

“Once you get into the primary calendar, you live week to week and you need a win to refuel your financing to fight next week’s battle,” he said. “My sense it that on the morning of March 3 we’ll pretty much know who the nominee is going to be.”

However, this does not necessarily mean that the runners-up in the earlier primaries will be ready to concede defeat.

“We could have a situation where the second finisher stays in longer, perhaps through the convention. Even in 2000, where Al Gore won 50 out of 50 contests, Bill Bradley stayed in for a while,” said another campaign adviser who did not want to be identified.

A candidate such as Mr. Dean, who is running a relatively low-maintenance campaign fueled by the party’s large antiwar base, could keep his candidacy going for months, possibly right up to the convention. So could civil rights activist Al Sharpton or former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, both of whom are running shoestring campaigns of their own, bankrolled by loyal constituencies in the black community.

By encouraging more states to advance their primaries into February, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is hoping to have the nomination locked up in early March, giving the party’s nominee much more time to build a stronger case against President Bush’s re-election.

As the primary calendar is shaping up, the Feb. 3 contests will be followed by caucuses in Michigan and Washington state Feb. 7; the Maine caucuses Feb. 7; and primaries in Virginia and Tennessee, plus binding caucuses in the District on Feb. 10.

On Feb. 17, Wisconsin is expected to hold its primary (still to be approved by the state legislature), followed by Idaho caucuses Feb. 24 and the Utah primary Feb. 27.

Then comes the biggest one-day delegate prize: the Super Tuesday contests March 2 in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio (the Republican-controlled legislature could move this contest to early May), Rhode Island and Vermont.

By the end of the day March 2, the Democratic primaries and caucuses will have awarded 2,021 pledged delegates, close to the 2,160 needed to win the nomination, out of 4,318 convention delegates.

“I still believe that this will be over sooner rather than later. Once Iowa and New Hampshire are finished, the races will be whittled down to three, maybe four, candidates,” Mr. Demers said.

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