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Kerry rolls to victory, faces Bush in election
Updated: 2004-03-03 10:44

US Democratic Senator John Kerry blazed to victories in Democratic primaries from New York to California, effectively capturing the party's presidential nomination and prompting his main rival, Senator John Edwards, to move to end his campaign.

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry celebrates his "Super Tuesday" election wins with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry during a rally in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2004. [Reuters]

Mr. Kerry defeated Mr. Edwards in almost every state - including Ohio and Georgia, where Mr. Edwards had been looking for a victory to keep his candidacy alive - in what was shaping up as a nationwide romp. Faced with a staggering night of losses, Mr. Edwards flew home to Raleigh, N.C., last night to withdraw from the race today, an aide said.

President Bush called Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, to congratulate him on his victories. "I said, `I hope we have a great debate about the issues before the country,' " Mr. Kerry said, recounting his conversation with the president.

Scott Stanzel, a Bush campaign spokesman, said Mr. Bush told Mr. Kerry that he had won the nomination against a tough field and that he was looking forward to a spirited race.

Mr. Kerry's hope for a 10-state sweep was frustrated not by Mr. Edwards but by Howard Dean, his onetime nemesis, who finally won his first primary, in Vermont, his home state, two weeks after he withdrew from the race.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry offered warm words about each other in their speeches last night, just two days after their decidedly unfriendly debate in New York.

"John Edwards brings a compelling voice to our party, great eloquence to the cause of working men and women all across our nation and great promise for leadership for the years to come," Mr. Kerry said of Mr. Edwards, whom many Democrats have pushed as a potential running mate for Mr. Kerry.

But most of all, Mr. Kerry offered a vigorous attack on the White House, previewing what officials in both parties said would be an extraordinarily rough general election campaign.

"I am a fighter," he proclaimed, and proceeded to use the platform of his nationally televised remarks to attack Mr. Bush for proposing a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriages.

"George Bush, who promised to become a uniter, has become the great divider," he said in Washington, adding: "He proposed to amend the Constitution of the United States for political purposes, and we say that he has no right to misuse the most precious document in our history in an effort to divide this nation and distract us from our goals. We resoundingly reject the politics of fear and distortion."

Kerry celebrates his victory with his children and wife. [AP]

Mr. Edwards, smiling but appearing weary, addressed supporters at a rally in Georgia, a state chosen in the hope that he could give a victory speech. Instead, Mr. Edwards delivered an address that sounded a farewell note for his campaign.

"We have been the little engine that could, and I am proud of what we've done together, you and I," he said.

He praised Mr. Kerry as "an extraordinary advocate for causes that all of us believe in: more jobs, better health care, a cleaner environment, a safer world."

"These are the causes of our party," he said. "These are the causes of our country and these are the causes we will prevail on come November, you and I together."

With yesterday's balloting, 29 states and the District of Columbia have now passed judgment on the Democratic field. And the party's leaders appear to have accomplished precisely what they were looking for in setting up this calendar: A near-consensus candidate, chosen early and with minimal bloodshed.

Mr. Kerry has now claimed the nomination earlier than any other nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate in more than 40 years, with the notable exception of Al Gore in 2000.

Advisers to Mr. Kerry sought to avoid appearing overly optimistic, even as they rejoiced in these latest wins. They said Mr. Kerry would campaign through Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, the four states where there will be primary voting on March 9.

"We only have one-third of the delegates we need," said Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry's spokesman. "The primaries give voters across the country a chance to get to know John Kerry."

Still, the Kerry campaign was girding for a sea change in the nature of the campaign, moving from the relatively small field of a Democratic primary - and a relatively mild opponent, in Mr. Edwards - to a general election campaign against Mr. Bush, whose aides have promised a fierce campaign. Mr. Kerry moved quickly to set out the themes of his campaign, incorporating lines used by Dr. Dean and Mr. Edwards as he turned full force to the White House.

"Tonight the message could not be clearer. All across our country, change is coming to America," he said, adding: "We have no illusions about the Republican attack machine and what our opponents have done in the past and what they may try to do in the future. But I know that together, we are equal to this task."

Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Edwards (D-NC) points to a supporter at an Atlanta, Georgia election night party on Super Tuesday March 2, 2004. Edwards will return to his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday night, an aide said, where he is expected to drop his White House bid. [Reuters]

The White House appears to be bracing for a strong Democratic threat. Aides to Mr. Bush said he would broadcast his first television advertisements on Thursday night, as he begins spending about $120 million he has raised precisely for this moment. His campaign surrogates appeared on television news programs last night, portraying Mr. Kerry as, among other things, an advocate of tax increases and big government.

It was the year's biggest night of voting for Democrats, with 1,151 delegates being allocated. Going into last night, Mr. Kerry had 562 of the 2,162 delegates needed to win the nomination, compared with 204 for Mr. Edwards.

Delegates in Democratic primaries are allocated based on the percentage of votes each candidate wins, as opposed to the winner-take-all system used by the Republican Party. As a result, Mr. Edwards was under pressure to not only win a number of big states, but win them by substantial margins in order to make up the delegate differences.

That did not come close to happening.

Mr. Kerry posted lopsided victories in New York and California, the two states with the highest number of delegates at stake.

He scored a double-digit victory over Mr. Edwards in Ohio, where Mr. Edwards had campaigned heavily in the calculation that his attacks on Mr. Kerry for voting for the North American Free Trade Agreement would lift him to victory.

He also swamped Mr. Edwards in Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Minnesota and, to no one's surprise, Massachusetts.

Mr. Kerry's huge victories are attributable to voters' anxieties about their own economic futures and, once again, an intense desire to defeat Mr. Bush, according to the polls of voters that were conducted in each state by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for a pool of five television networks and The Associated Press.

In Atlanta, Kyle Cole, 43, said he was voting for Mr. Kerry because "he's got experience."

"We live in some dangerous times," Mr. Cole said. "I really like Edwards, but we need someone who knows how Congress works. And the main thing is to get Bush out."

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