- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. John Kerry took commanding leads in five of the seven states that have Democratic primaries or caucuses Tuesday, setting the stage for a sweep of the contests, according to new polls.

In Arizona, Missouri and North Dakota, which have 143 of the 269 delegates at stake Tuesday, Mr. Kerry has left the field behind, the polls show, just as he did leading up to the Iowa and New Hampshire contests that propelled him over Howard Dean to become the party’s front-runner.

“If he wins every state, it’s over,” said Democratic strategist Steve Jarding, who is teaching a course on presidential politics at Harvard University. “If Kerry is 9 and 0, you’re not going to stop him.”

A poll of Missouri voters has the Massachusetts senator capturing 45 percent of the vote, followed by Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina with 11 percent and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean with 9 percent.

A poll of voters in Arizona has Mr. Kerry with 38 percent support, followed by Wesley Clark with 17 percent and Mr. Dean with 12 percent.

Mr. Kerry hopes to knock Mr. Clark and Mr. Edwards from the race Tuesday, then finish off a staggering Mr. Dean four days later in the Feb. 7 caucuses in Michigan and Washington state.

Mr. Dean’s goal is to keep his battered presidential bid alive — by winning as many delegates as possible Tuesday — until the primary Feb. 17 in Wisconsin. There, he plans to make a stand as Mr. Kerry’s chief rival for the nomination, his new campaign chief said yesterday.

“Let the conventional wisdom and the media declare this race over,” Roy Neel, chief executive officer of the Dean campaign, wrote in a memo. “We’re going to let the people decide.”

On the campaigning circuitl, Mr. Dean questioned Mr. Kerry’s Senate record.

“If Senator Kerry had accomplished anything in health care, he ought to be able to explain to the people of South Carolina how come there are so many uninsured kids here and there aren’t any in my state,” said the former Vermont governor.

He said Democrats need “a doer, not a talker” to beat President Bush in the fall.

Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry’s spokeswoman, said Mr. Dean is in no position to point fingers.

“If Howard Dean wants to talk about records of accomplishment, then he has some explaining to do about balancing the Vermont budget on the backs of the poor, not taking action to better secure a nuclear power plant in the wake of September 11 and throwing 400 family farms out of business,” Miss Cutter said.

Mr. Kerry trails in only one state, South Carolina, where Mr. Edwards leads by one point, within the poll’s margin of error, and is essentially in a tie with Mr. Clark in Oklahoma. Democratic strategists give Mr. Kerry the edge in New Mexico and Delaware.

By his own reckoning, South Carolina is a do-or-die state for Mr. Edwards, who had a surprisingly good second-place finish in Iowa and a modest virtual tie for third place in New Hampshire. In both cases, Mr. Edwards surged in the polls during the final days of the state campaigns.

“John should win it. He’s got a good base there and it’s his home state,” said Mr. Jarding, who ran Mr. Edwards’ political action committee and devised a strategy for Mr. Edwards to win over rural voters. “But he has to win.”

If he doesn’t, Mr. Jarding said, “it will be very difficult” for him to go on.

Despite Mr. Edwards’ connection to South Carolina, his birth state, Mr. Kerry recently added one of the state’s most influential endorsements to his impressive roster of South Carolina backers.

Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, endorsed Mr. Kerry Thursday night saying he “is the best candidate for president for the Democratic Party.”

“During the past year, John Kerry has demonstrated his determination and commitment,” said Mr. Fowler, a legend in South Carolina politics. “Kerry has a plan to cut middle-class taxes, reduce health care costs and has the experience to serve as commander in chief on his first day in office.”

Mr. Fowler joined Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina’s highest black elected official and often referred to as the state’s third senator, in supporting Mr. Kerry.

But those endorsements were blunted slightly when Mr. Hollings said, within earshot of a reporter for the State newspaper in Columbia: “We can come out a strong second. I don’t think there’s any question Edwards has got it.”

Mr. Clyburn replied, according to the State, that Mr. Kerry had not done well enough in the debate Thursday night to show South Carolinians that he understands the South.

“But I think he’s getting there,” Mr. Clyburn is quoted saying. “We’ll probably have to teach him how to talk. I’m going to give him a little rhythm.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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