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Kerry seeks Super Tuesday sweep
Updated: 2004-03-02 14:55

U.S. presidential hopeful John Kerry vowed that he would not be another "wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed" Democrat, pledging Monday to wage a bare-knuckled campaign against President Bush as he sought a Super Tuesday sweep to lay claim to the party's nomination.

Kerry highlighted the short political career of rival John Edwards in an interview with a television station in Georgia, where advisers to both candidates say the freshman North Carolina senator poses the biggest challenge.

"I have a stronger, longer, broader, deeper record than John Edwards," Kerry, a 19-year Senate veteran, told WALB in Albany. "John Edwards I respect he's been in the Senate since 1999. But there is no showing that he has a stronger record than I do with respect to putting people back to work and what we need to do to show the leadership of the future."

On the eve of their 10-state showdown, Edwards faced signs of political distress as Kerry's last major Democratic rival meager polling, paltry crowds and a growing realization inside his own ranks that the end may be near.

"At some point, I've got to start getting more delegates or I'm not going to be the nominee," he said in Ohio.

Regardless of Tuesday's results, Bush plans to begin a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign Thursday to reverse his downward trend. Kerry's campaign is considering a modest response designed to put the White House on the defensive, said two senior advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. Democratic allies may move sooner.

Edwards drew 300 people to a University of Toledo rally, three times fewer than a crowd that recently welcomed Kerry to the same venue. Drawing even smaller crowds in Dayton, Ohio, and Cleveland later Monday, Edwards seemed listless and indifferent, stumbling over signature lines in his stump speech.

It seemed prophetic when aides at the Cleveland rally played Fleetwood Mac's "You Can Go Your Own Way."

Edwards pledged to stay in the race "until I'm nominated," but declined to predict victory in Ohio, virtually a must-win state for him, as he acknowledged Kerry's dominance.

"There's no question that national momentum has an impact on these races," Edwards said.

He held out hope for an election surprise, noting that he defied polls by finishing just 6 percentage points behind Kerry in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. But he also had more time to court those voters than he did for Tuesday's races.

Edwards' only victory came in his birth state of South Carolina, four weeks and 11 defeats ago.

He ended his day with a rock-concert rally in Macon, Ga., telling his audience: "This is such an important night. Tomorrow is an imortant day. And we're going to change America together, you and I."

Kerry has won 18 of 20 primaries or caucuses, and led in pre-election polls in every competitive Super Tuesday venue. Ten states with nearly 50 million registered voters award 1,151 delegates on the biggest day of the nomination fight.

A sweep Tuesday could give Kerry more than 1,500 delegates a virtually insurmountable lead, though still short of the 2,162 needed to claim the nomination.

Edwards, with just 205 delegates as of Monday, will come under pressure to quit the race unless he wins two or more contests Tuesday, said strategists in both campaigns as well as several party leaders.

"I think it's wrapped up already," said Democratic strategist James Carville, who helped Bill Clinton become president.

Edwards virtually ceded four New England states holding Super Tuesday elections: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and the front-runner's home state of Massachusetts. Some Kerry advisers think Vermont could go to Howard Dean, the state's longtime former governor who folded his presidential campaign last month.

Edwards has campaigned in New York and California, the day's biggest prizes with a combined 606 delegates, but polls show him trailing badly. One survey showed the race close in Maryland, but even Edwards' advisers discounted the survey.

His advisers privately held out hope for victories in Georgia and Minnesota's hard-to-predict caucuses, but they said Ohio looked out of reach, with long-shot candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio cutting into Edwards' base.

If he loses that battleground state, Edwards would be hard-pressed to argue that his economic populism can stop Kerry outside the South.

Kerry's own polls showed him ahead in all 10 states, with Edwards closing. Still, Kerry only looked vulnerable in Georgia, his advisers said.

Kerry, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told WALB that his health care plan is the strongest. He said he has the experience in foreign policy, national security and military affairs, "which is critical if we are going to prove to the nation that we Democrats know how to keep the country safe."

As both Democrats visited Ohio and Georgia, Kerry promised a general election race that is "different from campaigns of the past."

"This isn't going to be some kind of we're-like-them, they're-like-us kind of wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, you can't tell the difference deal," Kerry said. Aides said he was referring to Democrats being voiceless on foreign policy, but comparisons to Dean's antiestablishment message were inescapable.

Kerry's advisers are mulling ways to counter Bush, although not immediately, including airing TV ads in northern Virginia or elsewhere to show that the Democrat will compete in even traditionally GOP states, advisers said.

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