John Kerry Campaigns In Virginia
Chris Hondros  /  Getty Images
John Kerry, poised for another pair of crushing wins Tuesday in Virginia and Tennessee, campaigned Sunday at Oscar E. Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va.
By MSNBC Politics Editor
updated 2/9/2004 9:58:29 AM ET 2004-02-09T14:58:29

John Kerry’s express train to the Democratic nomination is about to roll through the Tuesday primaries in Tennessee and Virginia where two new MSNBC polls show the Massachusetts senator trouncing his closest competitors, southerners Wesley Clark and John Edwards, by more than 20 points. And Howard Dean should expect to be all but flattened again, placing a distant fourth in both races, according to the polls.

Kerry should win the lion’s share of the 151 delegates at stake Tuesday, boosting his total to well over 500 and ever closer to the 2,162 needed to capture the nomination at the party’s July convention in Boston. His nearest competitor in the delegate race, Dean, is unlikely to add to his tally at all Tuesday.

In a weekend survey conducted for MSNBC by Zogby International, Kerry is favored by 47 percent of likely Virginia voters. Edwards is second with 24, Clark third with 11 and Dean fourth with 10. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points. In a poll done by Zogby for MSNBC and Reuters, 45 percent of likely Tennessee voters favor Kerry. Edwards is second with 21, Clark third with 19 and Dean trails with just 5 percent. The margin of error is 4.1. In both polls, “leaners” were counted for the candidates they favor instead of as “undecided.”

News of the polls comes as Kerry is basking in a three-state weekend sweep. He garnered 52 percent of the vote in the Michigan caucuses, seizing 91 delegates. Dean, a distant second there with 17 percent, got 24 delegates. In Washington, Kerry won 48 percent and picked up another 47 delegates to Dean’s 30 percent and 29 delegates. In Maine, with half the statewide vote counted, Kerry had 45 percent, Dean 26 percent and Kucinich 15 percent.

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Slideshow: On the trail The key to Kerry’s string of victories – he’s now 10 for 12 – is a growing belief among Democrats that he can defeat President Bush in November. "Again and again, the principal factor in Kerry's rise and coalition is his electability,” pollster John Zogby said. “In both states, he leads the other candidates in strength of support and in the perception that he can defeat the president.”

'Wide and deep' support
Also, "Kerry's victories are not based on any one or two sub-groups,” Zogby said. “His support is wide and deep. He has shown that he can hold all strands of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents together. This is particularly stunning when we consider that exactly one month ago (Jan. 9), my Iowa polling had him at barely 15 points, well behind both Dean and Gephardt.

But in Zogby’s tracking polls just before the Iowa caucuses, the first official voting of the year, Kerry began to surge, eventually consigning Dean, who had begun the year as the prohibitive front-runner in the polls, to a dismal third-place finish. Edwards finished a surprisingly strong second. Kerry went on to a big victory in the New Hampshire primary and has been playing the front-runner’s role ever since.

"This year's frontloaded primary schedule appears to have worked well in favor of the front-runner,” Zogby said. “It has become very much a sequential process as the winner in Iowa got a big bounce into New Hampshire, and the challengers had only a week to regroup. The same happened in succeeding weeks. While Edwards spent his time well in South Carolina and Clark did the same in Oklahoma, the fact is that the truncated schedule has worked well for the man who kept on winning. There has not been enough time for the challengers to raise enough money, spend time on the ground, or build upon free publicity because they could not cover enough states in a short time span. With all of this said, Kerry keeps on rolling.”

Edwards and Clark say they'll stay in
Edwards and Clark have said they intend to stay in the race regardless of how they do Tuesday. Many analysts have said that if the sons of the South can’t win consistently in the South, it will be hard for them to make a case for their electability elsewhere in the country. Edwards did win the first southern primary, in South Carolina last week, and Clark barely edged him to win Oklahoma the same day.

Dean, who has yet to win a contest, has said he will leave the race if he does not win in Wisconsin, the next big test after Tennessee and Virginia. But the latest poll shows that voters in Wisconsin, who go to the polls Feb. 17, favor Kerry by an overwhelming majority, with Dean placing only in the single digits.

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