- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

John Kerry vanquished his Dixie-bred rivals in Virginia and Tennessee on Tuesday, all but unstoppable in his march toward the Democratic nomination with a Southern sweep that extended his dominance to every region of the country.

“Americans are voting for change - East and West, North and now in the South,” Kerry declared to the roar of supporters in Fairfax, Va., chanting, “Kerry! Kerry!”

John Edwards, Wesley Clark and Howard Dean clung quixotically to the hope that Kerry would stumble on his own or by scandal, but party leaders began pressing for the nomination fight to end.

Kerry was pocketing about half the vote in Virginia - with Edwards of North Carolina a poor second and Clark of Arkansas a far-distant third. Kerry easily beat Edwards and Clark in Tennessee.

With two poor finishes, Clark’s fate seems sealed. He considered dropping out last week after eking out a lone victory in Oklahoma, and aides said similar discussions were under way Tuesday night.

Dean had already retreated with his staggering campaign to Wisconsin, site of a Feb. 17 primary.

With the enormous victories, Kerry expanded his primary-season dominance to the last region on his political scorecard. He has won 12 of 14 contests - seven by nearly half the vote - on the East and West coasts, in the Midwest, the Great Plains and the Southwest.

He even planned to take Wednesday and Thursday off to nurse a cough and work the phones from home in Washington.

“I think Democrats need to unify behind John Kerry and refocus on winning in November,” said former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, echoing other party elders.

Voters in the two states, like those in most of the first dozen contests, said the ability to defeat President Bush was the top quality they sought in a candidate - and they sided 6-to-1 with Kerry, according to exit polls.

“Anybody but Bush,” said Charles Edwards, 50, of Falls Church, Va., who decided to vote for Kerry as he entered his voting booth. “I’d vote for the devil.”

Bush’s poll ratings have dropped amid questions about his use of U.S. intelligence in deciding to go to war in Iraq. As Democrats cast their votes, the White House released pay records and other information to answer questions - echoed by Kerry - about whether the president fulfilled his Vietnam-era commitment to the National Guard.

The subject didn’t come up Tuesday night, though Kerry said he and his fellow Vietnam veterans are still young enough to fight for their country.

“For more than three years, this administration has failed to tell the truth about their economic record,” Kerry said.

He said it’s not up to him to decide whether his foes should stay in the race. Still, his every strategy was designed to dispatch his rivals with Tuesday’s triumphs, victory next week in Wisconsin or a nail-in-the-coffin showing March 2, when 10 delegate-rich states hold elections.

“What we showed today is the mainstream values that I’ve been talking about, fairness and hope and hard work and love of country, are more important than boundaries and birthplace,” the Massachusetts senator told The Associated Press.

“People want change in the country. They want to move forward in a new direction and I think I’m articulating what that new direction can be,” Kerry said. “It’s crossing all lines … without regard to region and other labels.”

With 92 percent of the vote in Virginia, Kerry had 51 percent, Edwards 27 percent, Clark 9 percent, Dean 7 percent, Al Sharpton 3 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio 1 percent. In Tennessee, with 30 percent reporting, Kerry had 40 percent, Clark 25 percent, Edwards 24 percent, Dean 5 percent, Sharpton 2 percent.

Virginia and Tennessee had 151 delegates at stake.

An AP analysis shows Kerry has piled up twice as many delegates as his closet pursuer. Counting early results from Tuesday’s races, Kerry now has 484 delegates to Dean’s 182, with Edwards at 146. A total of 2,162 are needed to nominate.

Half of the voters said they made up their mind in the last week, many in the last three days, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Eight in 10 said they were angry or dissatisfied with Bush, and Kerry finished strong among them.

“I like the fact that he’s a war hero,” said Celia Ambrester, 69, of Knoxville, Tenn. Kerry won three Purple hearts, one Bronze star and one Silver star in Vietnam. “We need someone in office who’s been in war and knows the issues.”

Edwards, a successful trial lawyer before entering politics, tells voters at every stop that he is the only candidate who could beat Texas-reared Bush in his own backyard, the South, yet he was having trouble with a Massachusetts Brahmin in Tennessee and Virginia. No matter the outcome Tuesday, Edwards will remain in the race, aides said, pointing his troubled campaign to Wisconsin and March 2.

The temptation to stay in the race is strong because the front-runner has not been tested by scandal or miscues thus far in the primary season. Kerry’s foes also point out that the crowded election schedule has not left much time for voters to take a second look at the front-runner.

Some voters were already looking. Bob Casey, 68, of Memphis, Tenn., sided with Clark after calling Kerry a liberal “from back East.” Eugene Robinson, 32, of Richmond, Va., voted for Clark because “he wasn’t some smarmy politician who was ready to talk about all the laws he’s passed and all the committees he’s been on.”

Though both Clark and Edwards have denied any interest in a vice presidential nomination, their future viability may come into play as they decide how long to fight Kerry.

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