- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Sen. Joe Lieberman ended his presidential bid last night after failing to win any of the first 10 primaries and caucuses, and Wesley Clark proclaimed his lone victory in Oklahoma yesterday will keep him in the race to challenge President Bush in November.

Mr. Lieberman withdrew after his hopes of a win in Delaware to keep his candidacy afloat were killed by a second-place finish behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, 26 votes ahead of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and exit polls showed him in single digits in the six other contests.

“The judgment of the voters is now clear,” the senator from Connecticut told supporters gathered at a hotel in Arlington. “For me, it is now time to make a difficult but realistic decision. I have decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America.”

Despite capturing Oklahoma and a second-place finish in Arizona, Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, was unable to inspire the Democratic electorate in the five other contests yesterday and his supporters braced for a bad night, just weeks after polls touted him as a serious candidate.

He nonetheless told supporters in Oklahoma City last night that “as an old soldier from Arkansas, I couldn’t be prouder” of his finish there.

“Today, across the country, Democrats went to the polls and tonight the people have spoken, and the message they sent couldn’t be clearer: America wants a higher standard of leadership in Washington,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark, a political outsider attempting his first run for office, once was placed among the strongest and well-funded candidates — garnering support from Hollywood celebrities, many former Clinton administration officials and wealthy Democratic donors.

Much of that money has, however, already been spent, and his showing yesterday failed to offer a clear road map for Mr. Clark’s candidacy. Campaign aides maintained that he has enough cash on hand to compete in Tennessee and Virginia, which hold contests on Tuesday, and Wisconsin, which votes Feb. 17.

As big a night as it was for Mr. Kerry, who appeared to have won five of the seven contests, he didn’t deal a knockout blow to all of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Left standing were Mr. Edwards, who last night added South Carolina to his second-place showing in Iowa and is emerging as the leading alternative to Mr. Kerry, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who remains winless in the nominating campaign but said he would continue to fight.

“[Mr. Kerry] is not king yet, but Dean is in trouble,” said Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile.

Darry Sragow, a California-based Democratic political consultant, said Mr. Kerry “unquestionably has the momentum — in all capital letters, italicized and underlined.”

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Dean have the only real shot at stopping Mr. Kerry, even though only 10 percent of the delegates needed to capture the nomination have been taken.

History is on the side of Mr. Kerry. Not since Edmund Muskie in 1972 has a candidate won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and not been tapped by his party.

For their part, Republicans seemed more interested in having the Democrats attack one another awhile longer rather than turn their attention to Mr. Bush.

“There’s still a lot more states,” said Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Clearly, Kerry has momentum on his side. But the voters haven’t spoken yet. … I think you’ve got to let the voters speak.”

The collapse of Mr. Dean’s once-high-flying campaign has been the most dramatic. He was the front-runner — with more money raised than anyone — but quickly slipped to third in Iowa, behind Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, and a distant second to Mr. Kerry in New Hampshire.

Mr. Dean skipped last night’s contests, hoping to regain his footing — and his funding — by concentrating on winning in liberal- and union-heavy Washington and Michigan this weekend.

But without a single victory after nearly a month of voting, Mr. Dean is in danger of joining the also-ran category with Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Clark, and the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, whose campaigns never have moved from the margins.

“Dean is holding on and praying that something shifts to hurt Kerry,” Mr. Sragow said. “All of the candidates keep hoping that somehow the facts will change. They all want to be the one who is there to grab the ball if Kerry fumbles.”

But it already might be too late in the game for anyone else to score big.

Last night, Mr. Lieberman, 62, said he may not have “shouted the loudest” but that he was proud to take “the toughest positions in support of what I believed was right for our great country.”

Mr. Lieberman rocketed to national fame on Aug. 7, 2000, when Al Gore selected him as his vice-presidential running mate, the first Orthodox Jew to run on a major ticket.

With his vice-presidential bid in 2000 as a springboard, Mr. Lieberman used his name recognition to push to the front of early national polls last year. But while Mr. Dean’s candidacy caught fire last year and Mr. Kerry surged this year, Mr. Lieberman’s bid languished near the bottom of the field.

Backers said Mr. Lieberman’s support for the war in Iraq cost him votes, as did a low-key style that never captured the attention of Democrats hungry for a fighter to take on Mr. Bush in November.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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