Kerry prepares for battle with Bush

Facing a Kerry tidal wave, Edwards bowing out

Wednesday, March 3, 2004 Posted: 0636 GMT ( 2:36 PM HKT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry all but claimed the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night, with what was shaping up to be a triumphant Super Tuesday and the decision of his chief rival, Sen. John Edwards, to quit the race.

"Thank you to voters from coast to coast who have truly made this a Super Tuesday," Kerry, a four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts and decorated Vietnam veteran, told cheering supporters in Washington.

He was projected to win nine of the 10 states holding contests Tuesday, including the night's biggest prizes, California and New York.


With Edwards' departure, Kerry faces no major rivals in his bid to claim his party's nomination in July when Democrats meet for their convention. While two other candidates remain in the race, they have never figured in the fight.

Underscoring Kerry's status as the presumptive Democratic nominee, President Bush called Kerry to congratulate him on his wins. "I said I hope we have a great debate about the issues before the country," Kerry told reporters.

Whatever niceties the two men exchanged in private, the public words were sharp and strong as the field narrowed and the battle lines were more clearly drawn.

Kerry used his speech to assail Bush as a president who has looked out for the wealthy and privileged, alienated allies abroad and divided Americans at home.

"Get ready. A new day is on the way," Kerry said. Various Bush surrogates were on the airwaves all night, blasting Kerry as big on tax hikes and weak on defense.

Kerry, who came into Tuesday's contests with 19 wins, is now poised to focus his campaign exclusively on defeating Bush, whose war chest exceeds $140 million. By contrast, Kerry has roughly $32 million.

Kerry saluted Edwards for his "compelling voice" and "great eloquence" and predicted the first-term senator from North Carolina would be a leader in the party for "years to come."

Some Democrats have publicly voiced support for the idea of a Kerry-Edwards ticket, but other prominent names have also been bandied about.

Speculation about the vice presidential slot will likely pick up steam now that the nomination battle seems largely over. "I don't think we need to talk about any ticket yet," Kerry told reporters.

Edwards will announce his decision to leave the race Wednesday in Raleigh, North Carolina, campaign sources said. Addressing supporters Tuesday night in Atlanta, Georgia, Edwards strongly signaled that decision with words of praise for Kerry.

"He's run a strong, powerful campaign," Edwards said. "He's been an extraordinary advocate for causes that all of us believe in."

Kerry will win nine states Tuesday night, CNN projected based on exit polls. They are: Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, Rhode Island, his native state of Massachusetts, and the two biggest plums, California and New York, with 370 and 236 delegates respectively. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

Kerry's leading margin was large in every state but Georgia, where Edwards ran strong.

Kerry's one loss was in Vermont, where former Gov. Howard Dean -- who dropped out of the race two weeks ago -- won his home state, CNN projected based on exit polls.

That was the first victory for Dean, who had once been seen as the man to beat for the nomination before stumbling badly in the Iowa caucuses in January.

At stake Tuesday were 1,151 delegates of the 2,162 needed to win the nomination. Going into Tuesday's contests, Kerry had 771 and Edwards had 221.

While Tuesday's results won't give Kerry the nomination in purely mathematical terms, the extent of his apparent victories settled the fight in practical terms -- barring any unforeseen developments.

Kerry fared particularly well among voters who were looking for a candidate who could beat Bush in November, according to exit polls. And Kerry enjoyed strong support among African-American and elderly voters, according to the exit polls.

Exit polls also showed that the economy remains the top issue on the minds of Democrats who voted early, although the significance of that issue for voters varied somewhat by state.(Full story)

Other issues -- including same-sex unions -- are moving onto voters' radar screens, the exit polls showed. But support for such unions varied by state, with support in Georgia, for example, considerably lower than in New York.

Despite a spirited campaign, Edwards had lagged in the race. Going into Tuesday, he had one primary victory, his native state of South Carolina, and he faced some pressure to drop out as Kerry's victories mounted.

Bush's re-election campaign plans to begin television advertising this week, and some Democratic leaders have said it would be best for the Democrats to have a single candidate when that happens.