KERRY
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry celebrates Tuesday at a primary-night party at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
By Michael E. Ross Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 2/11/2004 1:28:18 AM ET 2004-02-11T06:28:18

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry confirmed his political viability in the rural, conservative South on Tuesday, winning both the Virginia and Tenneessee primaries, and handily defeating southerners Wesley Clark and Sen. John Edwards on his march toward the Democratic nomination. Late Tuesday, Clark campaign spokesman Matt Bennett said the retired Army general would return to Little Rock, Ark., on Wednesday to announce his departure from the race.

With 100 percent of Virginia precincts reporting, Kerry had 52 percent, Edwards 27 percent, Clark 9 percent, and one-time front-runner and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean just 7 percent. In Tennessee, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kerry had 41 percent of the vote, Edwards had 26 percent, Clark 23 percent, and Dean 4 percent.  

Kerry's latest victories bolstered his already wide lead in the delegate count. Virginia had 82 pledged delegates at stake in the day’s primary, of which Kerry was expected to win 53. Tennessee had 69 delegates, of which Kerry could also expect to win the lion's share.

It takes 2,162 delegates to secure the nomination.

Tuesday's wins have led to another pending endorsement from labor for Kerry, and increased pressure from within the party for other candidates to consider bowing out.

Beyond regionalism
At a boisterous campaign rally punctuated with feel-good music— from U2's “Beautiful Day” to James Brown's “I Got You (I Feel Good)” — Kerry celebrated the double-barrelled victory and implied that his victories transcended regionalism.

Video: Wrap-up of Tuesday's primaries “Once again the message rings out loud and clear: Americans are voting for change. East and West, north and now in the South, and I am grateful for that,” said Kerry, speaking at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“Thank you, Virginia! Thank you, Tennessee! Together, across the South, you have shown that the mainstream values that we share — fairness, love of country, a belief in hope and hard work — are more important than boundaries or birthplace,” said Kerry.

The Massachusetts senator’s bounty on Tuesday also included an endorsement from Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, one week ahead of that state’s primary.

And MSNBC campaign embed Becky Diamond reported that the Teamsters Union had voted to endorse Kerry, and would do so Wednesday as part of an endorsement announcement from the Alliance for Economic Justice, a group of 18 unions that make up about 40 percent of the AFL-CIO.

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Reading the ‘handwriting’
Even before results for Virginia were in, party leaders began pressing for the nomination fight to end.

“I think Democrats need to unify behind John Kerry and refocus on winning in November,” said former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, who is not allied with any campaign.

“I think it is obvious from the results of these primaries as to what the handwriting on the wall is,” Panetta said.

For Tuesday's voters, there was anger at Bush, reflected in exit polls conducted for NBC News and other news organizations. “Anybody but Bush,” said Charles Edwards, 50, of Falls Church, Va., who decided to vote for Kerry as he entered his voting booth. “I’d vote for the devil.”

“I like the fact that he’s a war hero,” said Celia Ambrester, 69, of Knoxville, Tenn. Kerry won three Purple hearts, one Bronze star and one Silver star in Vietnam. “We need someone in office who’s been in war and knows the issues,” Ambrester told The AP.

Half of the voters said they decided in the last week, many in the last three days, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Some also-rans soldier on
In a post-primary rally held at American Serb Hall in Milwaukee, Wis., Edwards maintained a defiant front, putting the best possible face on second-place finishes. “Thank all of you, the voters who voted today, for saying to the country that we’re going to have a campaign and an election, not a coronation.”

Praising Sens. Kerry and Edwards -- “they’re both good men, they’ve run good races” -- Clark spoke to supporters Tuesday night, scarcely an hour before news of his withdrawal from the race.

"We're not going to lose the battle for America's future," he said. “Our goal remains the same: to change the direction of our country and bring a higher standard of leadership to the White House. There's no party more committed to that, to the American people, than this party, our party, my party, the Democratic party.”

Dean made little effort in Tuesday’s primary states, instead focusing his efforts on Wisconsin.

Campaigning in Superior, Wisc., Dean said Democrats need “an outsider, someone with a real record of change.” In a slap at Kerry, whom he didn’t mention by name, Dean said the alternative to himself was “a Washington fixture who plays the inside game.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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