ARLINGTON, Va. - Despite dueling yard signs in this affluent bedroom community, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry barrels into today s first all-South primary day solidly ahead in all polls ranking the Democratic hopefuls.
As voters in Virginia and Tennessee prepared to go to the polls, Sen. John Edwards (D, N.C.) and former Army general Wesley Clark still hoped to knock each other out of the race today, but Mr. Kerry believes this will be the day he chalks up a win in the South and reigns as undisputed frontrunner in the Democratic party.
No matter what happens, Mr. Kerry plans to continue his new strategy of ignoring his Democratic rivals and mustering all his firepower against President Bush, aides confirmed yesterday. But he won t officially declare himself the presumptive nominee until Super Tuesday on March 2, when 10 states, including New York, Ohio, and California, weigh in.
Already, Mr. Kerry has been rhyming soft insults at Mr. Bush. The most recent has been, “Like father, like son. One term and you re done. Mr. Kerry s biggest stick is loss of 2.2 million jobs during the Bush administration. The Gallup Poll says 43 percent of Americans now say Mr. Bush has done a good job handling the economy. One of Mr. Kerry s new mantras is, “This President has the worst jobs [record] of the last 11 presidents combined.
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who came in a distant second to Mr. Kerry in the weekend contests in Maine, Washington state, and Michigan, hasn t even campaigned in Virginia or Tennessee in recent days. Mr. Dean is hoping politically idiosyncratic Wisconsin on Feb. 17 will give him a boost and keep him in the race. However, he no longer says he ll withdraw if he doesn t win Wisconsin, where he had six campaign events yesterday.
Coming into today, with 2,162 delegates needed to cinch the nomination, Mr. Kerry has won 10 of 12 state contests, racking up 426 delegates. Former frontrunner Mr. Dean now has 184 but has not won any primaries or caucuses; Mr. Edwards has 116 delegates, and Mr. Clark has 82. Tennessee has 69 delegates at stake today; Virginia has 82.
Gallup polling for CNN and USA Today late last week said 52 percent of Democrats want Mr. Kerry as their nominee.
Mr. Kerry - wearing a casual brown jacket without his trademark tie as the four-term senator tries to look less formal - was the only candidate in the Old Dominion for much of the day, a day after he received the endorsement of Virginia s Democratic Gov. Mark Warner.
Mr. Kerry told a crowd in Roanoke that Mr. Bush s economic policies have failed, shouting, “If you liked what Bill Clinton gave you in eight years, you ll love what John Kerry will give you in the first four.”
Placing behind Mr. Kerry in the polls in Virginia and Tennessee, Senator Edwards insisted he won t quit the race if he doesn t win Virginia or Tennessee, saying, “This is a long-term effort for me.”
But in political speak, he has not flatly ruled out accepting a vice-presidential slot if Mr. Kerry is the nominee. Unlike others in the race, Mr. Edwards has staked much of his campaign on his refusal to bash his colleagues.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clark campaigned vigorously in Tennessee, where he made six stops and did three TV interviews.
He narrowly won Oklahoma a week ago, but, like Mr. Edwards, needs a win today to be taken seriously as the last standing alternative to Mr. Kerry, which Mr. Edwards, Mr. Dean, and Mr. Clark are all struggling to become.