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Kerry cements nomination; Edwards out
Updated: 2004-03-03 09:21

John Kerry cemented the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, driving John Edwards from the race with a string of Super Tuesday triumphs.

Edwards, the sole major challenger to Kerry, planned to step aside Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C., two Democratic officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-MA) reaches for a pass as he plays football with his campaign staff on the tarmac at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia March 2, 2004. [Reuters]

Kerry rolled up huge victories in Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut and his home state of Massachusetts as he made Edwards' presidential effort a political impossibility. The four-term Massachusetts senator also was favored in the late-poll closing states of California, New York, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

The freshman senator from North Carolina struggled even in his lone Southern stronghold of Georgia, with exit polls showing Kerry leading among blacks, low-income voters and Democrats in a primary open to all voters.

Kerry was already pivoting toward a general-election fight.

"Boy, wait until you see the fire in my belly," he told a TV interviewer.

Edwards pauses during a speech to supporters in Atlanta Tuesday.  [AP]
The White House dispatched Vice President Dick Cheney to TV studios to criticize the presumptive foe. "He very clearly has over the years adopted a series of positions that indicate a desire to cut the defense budget, cut the intelligence budget, to eliminate many major weapons programs," Cheney said of Kerry, a 19-year Senate veteran.

In the too-little-too-late category, Howard Dean finally won a presidential election, two weeks after being run out of the race. It came in his home state of Vermont, as partisans gave their former governor a sentimental nod and a few delegates that he might leverage for a budding reform movement.

"I'm an ABB kind of fellow ! anybody but Bush," said Dean voter Jeffrey Hughes of Shelburne, Vt.

Edwards, a 50-year-old senator who barely competed in half the states, targeted Georgia, Ohio and Minnesota for candidacy-saving victories.

In all, 10 states with a combined population of 94 million ! one-third of the U.S. total ! awarded 1,151 delegates, more than half of the 2,162 needed to seize the nomination.

Kerry, a 60-year-old senator, had 701 delegates to Edwards' 205, even before Tuesday's voting.

Winning nine of 10 states could give Kerry about 1,500 delegates ! a virtually insurmountable lead.

As votes were being case, the lawmakers took a Super Tuesday time-out in the Senate to vote on extending the ban on military-style assault weapons. The extension failed, and they returned to campaign work after chit-chatting on the Senate floor.

The pair spent part of the day in Georgia, with Kerry looking ahead to November.

"President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second," Kerry told the American Urban Radio Network.

His unbridled optimism muted, Edwards shook hands outside a polling place in suburban Atlanta, then declined to take questions from reporters.

Answers came all day from 10 states with nearly 50 million registered voters, many of them torn between the two candidates.

"The issue that drove me is getting rid of Bush, and that led me to Kerry," said Ron Debry, 47, of suburban Cincinnati. "Maybe Edwards someday, but I don't think he's ready yet."

Ousting Bush was the top priority for voters in nearly every Super Tuesday state, with large majorities saying they are angry at the president, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and TV networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

The economy and jobs were the dominant issue in the states.

Kerry won 18 of the first 20 elections, many by routs, in a six-week campaign that drew attention to his decorated service in the Vietnam War and amplified Democratic criticism of Bush. However, with the White House gearing up for Bush's re-election, Democratic leaders grew increasingly eager to end the nomination fight.

"Edwards is a team player," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said. "He'll know what to do."

Edwards won a single state, his native South Carolina ! and that was four weeks and 11 defeats ago. He has had eight second-place finishes, five third-places and six fourth-places.

US presidential hopeful John Kerry (left) cemented the Democratic nomination Tuesday, paving way for his "bare-knuckled campaign" against President Bush (right). [Reuters]

Bush's re-election campaign begins a multimillion-dollar TV ad blitz Thursday designed to bolster the president's sagging political fortunes. Kerry is prepared to dip into Democratic Party coffers to pay for his own ads.

Democratic interest groups, required to act independently of the Kerry camp, laid plans to air ads critical of Bush.

Two other candidates, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Al Sharpton of New York, had no chance of winning the nomination.

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