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Published: Sunday, 2/1/2004

Kerry in position for lion s share of 269 delegates

BY JAMES O TOOLE
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Win everywhere?

That, suddenly, is an ambitious but not impossible scenario Tuesday for Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat whose presidential candidacy was all but written off only months ago.

Two hundred sixty-nine delegates are at stake in the first multistate round of primaries and caucuses, and Mr. Kerry appears certain to win the lion s share of them. The most recent polls have depicted him with wide leads in the two states with the most delegates at stake Tuesday: Missouri and Arizona.

That leaves South Carolina and Oklahoma as the largest hurdles to Mr. Kerry s chances of finishing first across the board. He is competitive in both, according to analysts and the most recent polls.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was running ahead in South Carolina, the state of his birth, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark held a narrow lead over Senators Kerry and Edwards in the Sooner State.

But in both, Mr. Kerry has been the candidate on the move. His support has leapt upward in the days since his twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

That front-runner status was recognized in attacks by Mr. Kerry s rivals. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, piggybacking on a Washington Post story, pointed out that Mr. Kerry, despite his frequent denunciations of lobbyists and Washington insiders, had been a large recipient of lobbyists campaign contributions.

Pointing to those receipts, Mr. Dean dismissed Mr. Kerry as “another special interest clone.”

Paradoxically, however, the Dean campaign hopes that Mr. Kerry has a very good day Tuesday. After stinging disappointments in the first two Democratic contests, the suddenly cash-strapped Dean forces are looking beyond Tuesday and hoping to renew the challenge against Mr. Kerry farther down the primary road for a one-on-one “war of attrition” that could last well into the primary calendar.

For that scenario to develop, Mr. Kerry would have to first deliver knockout blows to other rivals in the next few contests while Mr. Dean waits for more favorable political terrain in later states.

Seeking to deflate any irrational exuberance about her candidate, Mary Beth Cahill, Mr. Kerry s campaign manager told the Associated Press, “It has never happened, somebody winning everything. There is no precedent for that; so I think it s extremely unlikely.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O Toole is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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