updated 12/12/2003 8:17:02 PM ET 2003-12-13T01:17:02

Once the final votes are counted in the Feb. 3 Democratic primaries, the field of nine presidential candidates will thin out considerably, the Democratic Party chairman said Friday.

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“We’ll be down to three or four candidates on the morning of Feb. 4,” Terry McAuliffe said during an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors. “If candidates haven’t won one of those nine contests, people should assess their candidacies.”

The nine contests would be the Iowa caucuses Jan. 19, New Hampshire primary Jan. 27 and contests in seven states Feb. 3. McAuliffe suggested that party leaders and supporters would deliver the painful truth to those who don’t have a shot at the party’s nomination, urging them to quit the race.

McAuliffe said he expects the front-loaded primary calendar to produce a nominee by March 10, and the DNC will quickly air ads in support of the candidate.

A nominee by March 10?
“My goal on the morning of March 10 is to be standing with the nominee,” he said. “We will begin our national advertising that day. The DNC will never go dark for a single day.”

Even though some Democratic candidates have harshly criticized their rivals, McAuliffe said all the candidates have promised him they would endorse the eventual nominee in their quest to unseat President Bush.

“The greatest unifier is George Bush,” he said. “There is a visceral dislike for George Bush.”

McAuliffe said he expects the campaigns will help the DNC and the nominee with the names of supporters, donors and e-mail lists. A coveted prize would be front-runner Howard Dean’s e-mail list of more than half a million voters, a significant number who are new to politics.

“Governor Dean says he will endorse the nominee and I think part of that would be sharing that,” McAuliffe said of the list.

Dean spokesman Jay Carson said: “We hope that all Democratic candidates would do and would urge their supporters to do whatever it takes to beat President Bush.”

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