Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said yesterday the Democratic presidential primary has “narrowed down to two, or maybe three, candidates,” and the voting so far backs him up.

With 1.6 million Democratic votes counted, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has won 38.2 percent and Mr. Edwards of North Carolina has won 23.2 percent.

Wesley Clark has won 14.9 percent of the votes, while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has won 10.6 percent, or slightly more than 170,000 votes. Mr. Kerry topped that number in Missouri alone on Tuesday, getting more than 210,000 votes.

Those counts don’t include Iowa, which does not report vote totals but rather delegates won. But it includes votes counted in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico and Arizona through noon yesterday.

“This is a very fluid race. It looks like it’s narrowed down to two, or maybe three, candidates,” Mr. Edwards told reporters after a rally at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tenn. “And I think if it’s two, it’s myself and Senator Kerry. I’ll let General Clark argue for whether he should be number three.”

Including Iowa, Mr. Kerry has won seven states. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Clark on Tuesday each won one race — South Carolina and Oklahoma, respectively.

Mr. Kerry flew to Boston yesterday to rest and plan for this weekend’s caucuses in Michigan, Washington and Maine. Mr. Dean spoke in Seattle, where he predicted he would win his first contest.

“We are going to win the Washington caucuses,” he said.

Mr. Dean was in Michigan last week campaigning and predicting he was “going to be strong here,” but several polls in the past week have shown Mr. Kerry with a commanding lead in the state. Mr. Dean now has turned his attention to Wisconsin’s Feb. 17 primary.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Clark are looking past the weekend to Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia and Tennessee.

“Tennessee is a state that is going to be the truest showing that we’ve had yet of how candidates will fare in the South,” said Bill Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Clark.

“Senator Edwards obviously had a large home-field advantage in South Carolina which does not exist in Tennessee,” Mr. Buck said. He added that in the eight races in which Mr. Clark has competed — he skipped the Iowa caucuses — the retired Army general has topped Mr. Edwards in five.

Mr. Clark, campaigning in Jackson, Tenn., specifically criticized Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards for attacking President Bush while having voted for his No Child Left Behind education bill and the post-September 11 Patriot Act.

“The American people don’t understand Washington or Washington politicians,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Edwards campaigned in Norfolk yesterday with much the same message he used to win South Carolina and have strong showings in Oklahoma and Iowa.

“Our message is working for us, so why change it?” spokesman Roger Salazar said. “It is a message of lifting people up, changing America by talking about the things we can do to help people.”

Mr. Kerry yesterday received an endorsement from the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union with 1.3 million members.

Now the question is whether two of the largest members of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will withdraw their backing of Mr. Dean and switch to Mr. Kerry.

SEIU President Andrew L. Stern said yesterday his members stand by their candidate, particularly because of his record in Vermont on health care.

“As all of the other candidates in the race for president have adopted Howard Dean’s message, the members of SEIU continue to believe that Howard Dean is the right messenger,” Mr. Stern said.

Mr. Dean has begun to take credit for the other candidates’ new focus.

“Even the other Democrats in the race — the very Democrats who weren’t standing up to the president a year or two years ago — are beginning to adopt the message of change,” he said in Seattle yesterday.

“We want a Democratic Party that’s not going to just play the game to get elected and elected and elected,” he said.

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