msnbc.com
updated 2/18/2004 4:26:50 PM ET 2004-02-18T21:26:50

And as they come into the home stretch of the 2004 Democratic presidential sweepstakes, it’s a two-man race. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary by more than 44,000 votes, or six percentage points, over North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Kerry now has three times as many delegates as Edwards, with more than 600 of the 2,162 he needs to lock up the nomination, easily retaining the Demo Derby lead as well.

But Kerry’s margin wasn’t as big as pre-election polling had indicated. And his victory speech Tuesday night epitomized one of his flaws as a candidate: It was a hollow-sounding, even soporific effort.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean, once the hottest star in the Democratic firmament, has faded to just a dim memory of his former self as he exits the race. In his final primary outing, Dean garnered only 18 percent of the Wisconsin vote.

Now the race heads to Super Tuesday on March 2. Democratic voters in 10 states will hold the biggest single event of the primary season, with 1,151 delegates at stake, 53 percent of the number needed to clinch the nomination.

The open-primary factor
Some Democratic e-mailers warn Demo Derby not to over-interpret the Wisconsin results, pointing out that, after all, it was an open primary and Republican voters were free to take part and make mischief.

“Republicans must be voting for Edwards in open primaries to try to make it look like Kerry doesn't have the ability to defeat Bush,” went one argument from a suspicious Kerry supporter.

While some Republicans probably did vote in Tuesday’s primary, it could be that these are some of the same Wisconsin Republicans who voted for Al Gore in 2000.

But in truth we do not know how many Republicans voted in Tuesday’s primary, since there is no party registration in Wisconsin.

Exit poll interviews found that about 10 percent of those who voted in the Democratic primary identified themselves as Republicans. That would be roughly 82,000 people.

For Democratic voters, and all anti-Bush voters of whatever party, the nub of the issue remains: Which candidate seems most likely to beat Bush?

The Edwards-Kerry battle will come down to a contest of personality and biography since the two men’s voting records on abortion, Iraq, protection of the environment, taxes, judicial nominees, and most other issues are nearly identical.

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