- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Sen. John Edwards solidly won the South Carolina Democratic primary and Wesley Clark claimed victory in Oklahoma, but Sen. John Kerry easily triumphed in five other states in an impressive showing last night.

Mr. Kerry is no longer undefeated, and was denied the coronation that could have been his with victories in all of yesterday’s contests.

But he is now seven-for-nine, including easily capturing the biggest prize of the day in Missouri, handily winning the primaries in Delaware and Arizona, and taking the caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota.

“Now we carry this campaign and the cause of a stronger, fairer, more prosperous America to all parts of our country,” he told supporters last night. “We will take nothing for granted. We will compete everywhere, and in November we will beat George W. Bush.”

With 95 percent of precincts reporting in Missouri, Mr. Kerry had 204,975 votes, or 50 percent, to Mr. Edwards’ 102,920, or 25 percent. No other candidate did better than 8 percent of the vote.

Oklahoma was the closest race of the night. With all precincts reporting early this morning, Mr. Clark edged out Mr. Edwards, with both men at 30 percent. Mr. Clark had 90,469 votes to Mr. Edwards’ 89,194 — and Mr. Kerry trailing at 81,012 votes, or 27 percent.

“Oklahoma is OK by me,” Mr. Clark said. “As an old soldier from Arkansas, I just couldn’t be prouder of your support in this first election I’ve ever won.”

Even as some campaigns extended their life, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said after looking at the evening’s results, he had “decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America.”

Former front-runner Howard Dean had a disastrous night, finishing fifth in South Carolina and tallying no better than third in any of the five states reporting results early last night.

All told, 269 delegates to the Democratic convention in Boston this summer were up for grabs yesterday, and the main question was whether anyone could stop Mr. Kerry’s momentum.

The win in South Carolina for Mr. Edwards and his strong showing in Oklahoma, following his second-place showing in Iowa two weeks ago, puts him in prime position to go up against Mr. Kerry.

He called South Carolina a “great political victory” and said he offers Democrats someone who can understand “the problems of working people” and can represent them.

“Today, we said clearly to the American people that in our country, our America, everything is possible,” he told supporters at a party in Columbia, S.C.

With 94 percent of South Carolina’s precincts reporting, Mr. Edwards led Mr. Kerry by 124,079 votes to 83,230 — or 45 percent to 30 percent.

Mr. Edwards passed the first test in the South, and the first large test among black voters.

Exit polls showed Mr. Edwards won among moderate voters in South Carolina and won 37 percent of the black vote to Mr. Kerry’s 34 percent and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s 18 percent. Mr. Sharpton finished third in the state, with 26,320 votes overall, or 10 percent.

Mr. Edwards had set victory in South Carolina as a benchmark for his campaign to continue.

But Mr. Kerry said his several wins and his second in South Carolina “shows strength across the country and across demographics.”

“It’s a statement by Democrats across the country that I am the candidate who can take on George Bush and beat him,” Mr. Kerry told the Associated Press.

He performed well across the board among voters who cited electability and the ability to beat the president as their main concern.

Although Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, set no specific goal as Mr. Edwards did, but his son, Wesley Clark Jr., told reporters in Oklahoma yesterday afternoon that he hoped his father would quit the race if he did not win the state.

“It’s really been disillusioning,” said the son, also a military veteran. “You go out and see the way politics really works. It is a dirty business filled with a lot of people pretending to be a lot of things they are not.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Dean admitted the evening wasn’t good for his campaign, telling supporters in Tacoma, Wash., it was a “tough night tonight,” but he would try to win Washington.

But he said he was happy to pick up some delegates with his showing, “and this is all about who gets the most delegates in Boston in July, and it’s going to be us.”

For a post-election speech, he also harshly criticized Mr. Kerry, though not mentioning his rival by name.

“You cannot say that you’re going to get rid of the special interests in Washington if you have taken more money than any other senator in the last 15 years from special interests,” he said.

The next two rounds of contests are caucuses in Michigan, Washington and Maine this weekend, and then Virginia’s and Tennessee’s primaries on Feb. 10.

After winning Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary in January, Mr. Kerry is well on his way to sewing up the nomination. The question now is whether Mr. Kerry’s showing was strong enough to dry up donations to other campaigns.

Whatever happens with the money, though, it’s clear that the primary voters are moving in that direction, and quickly.

A Gallup poll taken this weekend found that 49 percent of Democratic voters nationally now support Mr. Kerry — far higher than the 31 percent support the poll found for Mr. Dean at his peak in December. Mr. Dean now has fallen to 14 percent in the Gallup poll.

And a Quinnipiac University Poll from the weekend showed that if forced to choose in a two-man race, 64 percent of Democrats would prefer Mr. Kerry, while 23 percent would prefer Mr. Dean and 13 percent were undecided.

That bodes ill for Mr. Dean’s strategy of cursory attention to yesterday’s voting states and hopes for a one-on-one matchup with Mr. Kerry later this month.

Mr. Kerry also has surpassed Mr. Dean recently in endorsements, picking up support from the governors of Washington and Michigan.

Only Mr. Kerry put an effort in all seven states that voted yesterday. He visited each at least once in the past week, and advertised and put together an organization in each.

Mr. Lieberman concentrated on Delaware and the Southwestern states, and tried to appeal to conservative Democrats and independents.

“In this campaign, I may not have shouted the loudest, but I am proud that I took the toughest positions in support of what I believed was right for our great country, even when it wasn’t popular,” Mr. Lieberman said last night in his exit speech.

He was a consistent supporter of the war in Iraq — a position that hurt him with the party base.

Mr. Clark focused on Oklahoma and the Southwest, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich traveled to various locations.

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Sharpton spent almost all of their time in South Carolina, while Mr. Dean never really concentrated anywhere. Instead, he mixed in visits to states that aren’t voting until this weekend or, in the case of Wisconsin, on Feb. 17.

Now the campaigns are making their plans for the next week.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dean were already in Washington last night. Mr. Clark and Mr. Edwards are focusing on the Feb. 10 primaries in Virginia and Tennessee and have scheduled visits in one or both states today.

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

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