- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

MADISON, Wis. — Sen. John Kerry last night took a narrow victory in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary, though Sen. John Edwards’ surprisingly strong second-place showing and his vow to campaign into March means that Mr. Kerry missed a chance to cement the nomination.

“The motto of the state of Wisconsin is forward — and I want to thank the state of Wisconsin for moving this cause and this campaign forward tonight,” Mr. Kerry told supporters in Madison.

In a speech to supporters in Wisconsin, Mr. Edwards implied that the race is now a two-man contest, calling out Mr. Kerry for a head-to-head debate and not mentioning former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean or anyone else.

“I am ready any time Senator Kerry is. I want voters to know what both of us have to offer,” he told supporters in Milwaukee. “I would like very much to see head-to-head debate with Senator Kerry.”

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Kerry had 305,164 votes, good for 40 percent. Mr. Edwards had 265,714 votes, or 35 percent, and Mr. Dean had 139,561 votes, for 18 percent.

With his campaign in disarray, his campaign chairman having jumped ship, no plans for how to campaign in New York, California or the eight other March 2 primaries and caucuses, Mr. Dean’s campaign may be coming to an end or, at the very least, go through a major reduction.

But Mr. Dean was defiant yesterday.

“We are not done,” Mr. Dean told supporters at a post-election party in Madison, telling them his showing proves that the Democratic Party has begun to change.

“A year ago, the Democrats were falling all over each other to vote for the war in Iraq. They sure don’t talk like that now.”

Mr. Kerry has won all but two of the primaries or caucuses before yesterday, and his lead in the delegate count is overwhelming.

But Mr. Edwards has exceeded expectations and proved a tenacious opponent. He has said he has the money to compete in at least some states through the early March primaries.

Mr. Edwards benefited from major newspaper endorsements and a sound showing at the Sunday night debate in Milwaukee.

According to the exit polls, among the one-fifth of voters who made up their minds in the past three days, Mr. Edwards won 56 percent. And of the fifth of voters who decided yesterday, Mr. Edwards won 40 percent.

The polls also showed that 38 percent of voters had supported Mr. Dean at one point during the primary, though three-fifths of them ended up voting for someone else. They split evenly between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio also participated in the debate in Milwaukee, and Mr. Kucinich campaigned in the state, but neither gained much support.

Mr. Kerry said during the day that he remains best positioned for the nomination because he has competed everywhere and Mr. Edwards has not.

“You can’t run for president cherry-picking states here and there. You have to run nationally,” Mr. Kerry said. “I think I’ve been the only one in recent weeks who’s been doing that.”

According to an Associated Press exit poll, about one in 10 voters was Republican — Republicans can vote in Wisconsin’s open primary — and about 30 percent were independents. Those voters broke for Mr. Edwards.

“That’s been happening in other primaries, too,” Mr. Edwards told AP in an interview. “Republicans who would consider voting Democratic and independents are the people we have to win over to win the general election. That’s why I’m the best candidate to take on George Bush.”

Mr. Kerry has campaigned during the past week as if his Democratic rivals were all but invisible — and in some cases they were. Mr. Kerry was the only candidate to fly to Nevada to campaign for that state’s caucuses last week.

The Massachusetts senator has focused his remarks almost exclusively on President Bush, and particularly on his jobs record.

Mr. Kerry will be in Ohio today, one of the 10 states holding a primary or caucuses on March 2. But Ohio’s significance goes far beyond the 159 delegates it accounts for at the Democratic convention.

Mr. Bush won Ohio by 50 percent to 46 percent over then Vice President Al Gore in 2000, and the state is worth 20 electoral votes in the general election, which could well be the deciding margin.

Ohio also has suffered serious job losses, including about 160,000 from the manufacturing sector. Mr. Kerry, who until recently was an ardent supporter of free trade, is repositioning himself as a labor-friendly candidate and taking that message to Ohio.

Mr. Kerry is expected to pick up the endorsement of the AFL-CIO tomorrow in Washington, and yesterday won the backing of 19 unions that previously supported Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, who dropped out of the campaign after Iowa’s caucuses.

The Bush campaign enlisted Rep. Rob Portman to defend the president in a conference call with reporters yesterday. The Ohio Republican said Mr. Bush’s tax cuts have made the past recession the shallowest in history.

“By acting, and acting decisively, he has not only allowed millions of Ohio taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money, he has also helped to keep us from going into a deep recession over the last two years, and brought us out of that recession,” Mr. Portman said.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry have released schedules for campaigning later this week in the March 2 states, but Mr. Dean has not. He said early yesterday that he will return to Burlington, Vt., and reassess how to continue.

“We’ll be talking about what we’re going to do in the future of the campaign,” he said on CBS’ “Early Show.” “We’re going to keep going. We’ve got good organizations all the way through March 9 in Florida and Illinois, and certainly for Super Tuesday.”

Wisconsin was supposed to have been Mr. Dean’s chance for a big showdown with Mr. Kerry. After giving short treatment to the seven Feb. 3 primaries and caucuses, including South Carolina and Missouri, Mr. Dean proceeded to target and then forgo a big effort in Michigan and Washington state on Feb. 7, and completely ignored Virginia and Tennessee on Feb. 10.

He then set a bar for Wisconsin as his must-win state, but said later that he will continue anyway.

In the past few days he has said that even if he doesn’t win the nomination, he will continue in “a different way” to pursue his message of changing the way Republicans as well as Democrats work in Washington.

This past weekend he gave a hint of what shape that might take, telling his audience at a rally in Racine, Wis., that he would like to use his base of supporters to try to help out 20 to 25 Democratic congressional candidates this year who are in tight races.

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