San Diego Union Tribune

February 11, 2004

Kerry wins big in South; Clark out
Edwards vows to stay in race; Dean undaunted


By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry yesterday swept to victory in Virginia and Tennessee, easily defeating two Southern rivals and cementing his status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas, who finished a disappointing third in both primaries, decided to drop out of the race hours after the polls closed.

But North Carolina Sen. John Edwards pledged to forge on, despite finishing a distant second in both states.

Even before the final votes had been cast, party leaders were urging the losing candidates to clear the field for Kerry, who increasingly is turning his attention to President Bush.

Clark and Edwards skipped weekend caucuses in other states to campaign heavily in Tennessee and Virginia. But it was the Northerner who proved the viable candidate in the South.

"Once again the message rings out loud and clear: Americans are voting for change, East and West, North, and now, in the South," Kerry told hundreds of joyous supporters in Fairfax, Va.

"Thank you Virginia, thank you Tennessee. Together, across the South, you have shown that mainstream values that we share fairness, love of country, a belief in hope and in hard work are more important than boundaries or birthplace."

Edwards vowed to continue his campaign in hopes of emerging as the strongest, and perhaps only, alternative to Kerry after next Tuesday's Wisconsin primary and going into the 10-state contest on March 2 that includes California.

"We're gonna have a campaign and an election, not a coronation," Edwards said.

Clark's advisers said the retired Army general will return today to Little Rock, Ark., where he will announce he is dropping out of the race.

Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Kerry J. Donley described Kerry's performance in his state as "stunning."

"If you're John Edwards, you have to (say), 'I was beaten in, essentially, my own back yard,' " Donley said.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who did not mount a major effort in Virginia or Tennessee, was unbowed by Kerry's latest victories, which gave the Massachusetts senator 12 wins in the 14 contests held so far.

"I think voters have yet to make the decision about who the nominee is," Dean said on CNN, although he added that he had no intention of running "a quixotic campaign to ruin the Democrats' chances of beating George Bush."

Dean, who has yet to win any of the contests, is staking his hopes on Wisconsin to revive his once high-flying candidacy.

The Rev. Al Sharpton of New York and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich also remain in the race, though they have not been major factors in any state.

Kerry posted a two-to-one victory over Edwards in Virginia and cruised with a comfortable double-digit margin in Tennessee.

"That's a wipeout," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "I've seen momentum before, but never before this dramatically. Democrats are desperate to get it over with and get on with the difficult job of beating Bush."

In Virginia, 82 delegates to the Democratic nominating convention were at stake, the second-biggest cache in the race so far. Tennessee will send 69 delegates to the Boston convention in July.

Kerry's previous losses in South Carolina and Oklahoma had raised questions about whether he could appeal to a more moderate breed of Democratic voters. On Feb. 3, Edwards won South Carolina, where he was born, and Clark narrowly took Oklahoma, spoiling a seven-state sweep by Kerry that day.

The results in Tennessee and Virginia dispelled those concerns, at least for now.

"Clearly this victory by John Kerry . . . is evidence that he can win in the South and win convincingly," said Donley.

Edwards and Clark largely ignored contests in Michigan, Washington and Maine over the weekend to concentrate on Virginia and Tennessee.

Nevertheless, they virtually conceded first place to Kerry even before the voting began in the Southern states, with Clark labeling himself an "underdog" and Edwards choosing to watch the election returns from Milwaukee.

Political leaders in both states said the momentum Kerry had built up and the perception that he was the one who could defeat Bush were crucial to his victories. Surveys of voters leaving the polls clearly reflected that.

"He picked up a lot of momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire," said Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Randy Button. "He wasn't really on the radar screen in Tennessee three or four weeks ago."

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, also made a strong appeal to Virginia's large population of military personnel and veterans. Voter surveys yesterday indicated that Kerry drew 52 percent of the veterans' vote in Virginia, more than twice as much as Edwards did.

Clark, who also touted his military record, drew just 11 percent support from veterans.

Edwards made jobs and the economy the centerpieces of his campaign. The surveys indicated that he drew his largest share of support from voters who said the economy was their top concern.

Edwards has said that this year's tight election schedule, with voting in 14 states in the past three weeks, made it difficult to make headway. His strategists hope he will be competitive in the states that hold elections on March 2, since he will have two weeks to concentrate on them after the Wisconsin primary.

While Clark and Edwards clashed sharply in Tennessee and Virginia, Kerry wrapped himself in the aura of the front-runner and kept his focus on Bush, issuing daily denunciations of the president's policies on Iraq, the economy, education and health care.

Kerry also picked up key endorsements from Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, former Tennessee Gov. Ned Ray McWherter and influential Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., D-Tenn., who continued the Democratic establishment's rush to support the front-runner.

Campaigning in Superior, Wis., Dean called on Democrats to nominate "an outsider, someone with a real record of change" instead of "a Washington fixture who plays the inside game."

He said Kerry had not gotten enough scrutiny from voters or the media. With that, Dean had made a credible point, according to analyst Sabato.

"Primaries are supposed to test the candidates and you're supposed to see the key issues and personal issues very clearly discussed and aired," he said. "(Democrats) did not have a comprehensive vetting and that's going to hurt. A lot of Democrats are going to be very shocked by a lot of the votes Kerry cast in the Senate and so will a lot of independents."