- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won an overwhelming victory in yesterday’s 10 Democratic presidential contests, booting Sen. John Edwards from the race and setting up a November showdown with President Bush.

In a sign that the battle already had begun, Mr. Bush called Mr. Kerry last night to congratulate him on his performance.

Mr. Kerry’s nine victories in 10 races did not mathematically secure the nomination, but he now faces only the minimal opposition of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich.

“Before us stretch long months of effort and challenge. We have no illusions about the Republican attack machine and what our opponents will try to do,” Mr. Kerry told supporters at the Old Post Office Pavilion, two blocks from the White House, last night.

“But I know we are equal to the task. I’m a fighter.”

“Our campaign is about replacing doubt with hope and about replacing fear with security,” Mr. Kerry said before turning his attention to a long list of Mr. Bush’s failings.

He drew lusty boos from the crowd when mentioning the president’s endorsing the idea of a constitutional amendment enshrining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mr. Bush “has no right to misuse the most precious document in our history in an effort to divide this nation and distract us from his failures,” Mr. Kerry said.

On the biggest day in the primary calendar, Mr. Edwards was shut out. He canceled plans to travel to Texas for next week’s four Southern primaries and instead made plans to return to Raleigh, N.C., to make his exit official.

Mr. Edwards’ decision to drop out — first reported by the Associated Press minutes before the North Carolina senator spoke to supporters in Atlanta last night — leaves the path clear for Mr. Kerry to win the nomination and solidifies his matchup with Mr. Bush, who is seeking re-election in November.

In talking to supporters last night, Mr. Edwards spoke a lot about where his campaign has been, but said little about where it’s going.

“I am proud of the fact that you and I together have brought these issues back to the American debate — race, equality, civil rights, poverty,” Mr. Edwards said. “We have been the little engine that could, and I am proud of what we have done together, you and I.”

He also praised Mr. Kerry for having “run a strong, powerful campaign.”

For his part, the Massachusetts senator said Mr. Edwards’ speech was “a powerful and generous statement” and said he looked forward to “leadership for years to come” from his Senate colleague.

“He is a valiant champion of the values for which our party stands,” Mr. Kerry said, giving a further nod to Mr. Edwards and his campaign message of bridging “two Americas.”

“We will build one America of freedom and fairness,” Mr. Kerry said.

Based on exit polls and early returns last night, Mr. Kerry collected victories in Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Georgia, and easily won the two biggest prizes, New York and California.

Mr. Edwards’ best performance came in Georgia, which was the only primary state not called by TV networks based on exit surveys within minutes of the polls closing. But Mr. Kerry eventually eked out a narrow victory, 46 percent to Mr. Edwards’ 42 percent.

In the other contests, Mr. Kerry had at least 50 percent of the vote in every state except for Vermont, ranging from an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote in home-state Massachusetts and 71 percent in neighboring Rhode Island, to slight majorities in the Ohio primary with 52 percent and in the Minnesota caucuses with 51 percent.

Only Vermont bucked the Kerry tide last night, giving 58 percent of its vote to Howard Dean, its former governor who suspended his campaign two weeks ago, against 34 percent for Mr. Kerry.

California completed the near-sweep last night, giving Mr. Kerry 68 percent of its vote in early returns.

As if to make the Kerry victory official, Mr. Bush called Mr. Kerry at 7:50 p.m. and told him that “he had run an impressive campaign” and had won the nomination “against a tough field,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Mr. Bush, calling from the White House, told Mr. Kerry that “he looked forward to a spirited race,” the spokesman said.

In the brief conversation, Mr. Kerry thanked the president for the congratulatory call and also said he looked forward to the race.

The senator, who has hammered Mr. Bush throughout the primary season, also said “he hoped they could keep it to the issues,” Mr. Stanzel said.

Mr. Edwards is just the latest victim of what has become a well-honed campaign machine for Mr. Kerry. He methodically has plowed through the field of candidates, forcing them to drop out one by one.

The back-breaking showings for Mr. Edwards came in Georgia, a Southern state that he put the most effort into, and Ohio, where he had hoped his message on trade might resonate.

Exit polls from Ohio showed Mr. Kerry soundly beating Mr. Edwards among both voters who thought trade agreements create jobs and who thought trade agreements cost jobs.

Mr. Kerry also did well among union households and black voters.

Mr. Dean suspended his campaign two weeks ago after suffering a devastating third-place showing in Wisconsin, a state he had said would be most open to his outsider message. He has promised to try to convert his support into a political movement within the Democratic Party.

Mr. Dean did not hold any events last night, but released a statement to reporters in which he said his home-state win “means so much to me.”

“This party and this country still needs change, and tonight you have helped further that process,” he said.

Mr. Kucinich and Mr. Sharpton have shown no signs of ending their low-cost bids, which have had bright spots: Mr. Sharpton had a second-place showing in the District of Columbia’s caucuses, and Mr. Kucinich had a second-place showing in Hawaii last week.

Not counting Mr. Edwards’ expected announcement today, six candidates have dropped from the field, including Mr. Dean.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was the first to drop out followed by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who ended her campaign just before the Iowa caucuses. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri dropped out after a fourth-place showing in Iowa.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut dropped out after the seven Feb. 3 primaries and caucuses, when he didn’t score a victory. Wesley Clark won the Feb. 3 primary in Oklahoma, but failed to win in either Virginia or Tennessee on Feb. 10, knocking him from the race.

Joseph Curl contributed to this article.

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