EDWARDS GESTURES DURING CAMPAIGN SPEECH
Rick Wilking  /  Reuters
Sen. John Edwards' campaign stops included this speech in Cleveland, Ohio.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/2/2004 9:44:17 AM ET 2004-03-02T14:44:17

With Super Tuesday voting under way, Sen. John Edwards' best chance for a win appeared to be in Georgia -- where a new opinion poll had him narrowing the gap with Sen. John Kerry in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A Zogby International poll for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found that Edwards had narrowed the Georgia gap from 19 percent in a previous poll to 14 percent in the new one.

But that was the best news awaiting Edwards on Tuesday morning, as polls in the nine other states holding primaries or caucuses showed Kerry well ahead.

Both senators were beginning the day in Atlanta, with Edwards of North Carolina visiting a polling place and Kerry of Massachusetts meeting with workers.

Video: What's next for the Democrats? Both were then returning to Washington late in the day for Senate votes on gun legislation. After the Senate gun votes, Kerry was to remain in Washington for an election-night party while Edwards was to return to Atlanta to await returns.

With 1,151 delegates on the line, more than half the number needed to capture the nomination, the candidates entered the final day of campaigning for the biggest event of the nominating season. Here’s the latest from Tuesday’s key voting states:

  • New York: Kerry holds a 54-point lead in a Marist Poll released Monday. The Massachusetts senator has climbed to 69 percent among likely voters in the race for 236 delegates while Edwards draws just 15 percent.
  • California: There are 370 delegates at stake. Kerry leads by 30 to 40 points in most recent polls.
  • Ohio: It’s Kerry by more than 20 points in the contest for 140 delegates, according to an American Research Group poll from last week.
  • New England: Kerry is running so strong in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, which together offer another 163 delegates, that he isn’t even bothering to campaign there.
  • Maryland: Kerry has a 13-point lead in a poll from last week. Sixty-nine delegates are on the line.

Kerry has won 18 of the first 20 contests, amassing 686 delegates to Edwards’ 206.

On Monday, Kerry vowed that he would not be another “wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed” Democrat, pledging to wage a bare-knuckled campaign against President Bush as he sought a Super Tuesday sweep to lay claim to the party’s nomination.

Kerry highlighted the short political career of Edwards in an interview with a television station in Georgia, where advisers to both candidates say the freshman North Carolina senator poses the biggest challenge.

“I have a stronger, longer, broader, deeper record than John Edwards,” Kerry, a 19-year Senate veteran, told WALB in Albany. “John Edwards I respect — he’s been in the Senate since 1999. But there is no showing that he has a stronger record than I do with respect to putting people back to work and what we need to do to show the leadership of the future.”

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On the eve of their 10-state showdown, Edwards faced signs of political distress as Kerry’s last major Democratic rival — meager polling, paltry crowds and a growing realization inside his own ranks that the end may be near.

“At some point, I’ve got to start getting more delegates or I’m not going to be the nominee,” he said in Ohio.

Regardless of Tuesday’s results, Bush plans to begin a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign Thursday to reverse his downward trend. Kerry’s campaign is considering a modest response designed to put the White House on the defensive, said two senior advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. Democratic allies may move sooner.

Smaller crowd
Edwards drew 300 people to a University of Toledo rally, three times fewer than a crowd that recently welcomed Kerry to the same venue. Drawing even smaller crowds in Dayton, Ohio, and Cleveland later Monday, Edwards seemed listless and indifferent, stumbling over signature lines in his stump speech.

It seemed prophetic when aides at the Cleveland rally played Fleetwood Mac’s “You Can Go Your Own Way.”

Edwards pledged to stay in the race “until I’m nominated,” but declined to predict victory in Ohio, virtually a must-win state for him, as he acknowledged Kerry’s dominance.

“There’s no question that national momentum has an impact on these races,” Edwards said.

He held out hope for an election surprise, noting that he defied polls by finishing just 6 percentage points behind Kerry in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. But he also had more time to court those voters than he did for Tuesday’s races.

Edwards’ only victory came in his birth state of South Carolina, four weeks and 11 defeats ago.

He ended his day with a rock-concert rally in Macon, Ga., telling his audience: “This is such an important night. Tomorrow is an imortant day. And we’re going to change America together, you and I.”

A sweep Tuesday could give Kerry more than 1,500 delegates — a virtually insurmountable lead, though still short of the 2,162 needed to claim the nomination.

Edwards, with just 205 delegates as of Monday, will come under pressure to quit the race unless he wins two or more contests Tuesday, said strategists in both campaigns as well as several party leaders.

“I think it’s wrapped up already,” said Democratic strategist James Carville, who helped Bill Clinton become president.

Edwards virtually ceded four New England states holding Super Tuesday elections: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and the front-runner’s home state of Massachusetts. Some Kerry advisers think Vermont could go to Howard Dean, the state’s longtime former governor who folded his presidential campaign last month.

Edwards has campaigned in New York and California, the day’s biggest prizes with a combined 606 delegates, but polls show him trailing badly. One survey showed the race close in Maryland, but even Edwards’ advisers discounted the survey.

His advisers privately held out hope for victories in Georgia and Minnesota’s hard-to-predict caucuses, but they said Ohio looked out of reach, with long-shot candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio cutting into Edwards’ base.

If he loses that battleground state, Edwards would be hard-pressed to argue that his economic populism can stop Kerry outside the South.

'Keep the country safe'
Kerry’s own polls showed him ahead in all 10 states, with Edwards closing. Still, Kerry only looked vulnerable in Georgia, his advisers said.

Kerry, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told WALB that his health care plan is the strongest. He said he has the experience in foreign policy, national security and military affairs, “which is critical if we are going to prove to the nation that we Democrats know how to keep the country safe.”

As both Democrats visited Ohio and Georgia, Kerry promised a general election race that is “different from campaigns of the past.”

“This isn’t going to be some kind of we’re-like-them, they’re-like-us kind of wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, you can’t tell the difference deal,” Kerry said. Aides said he was referring to Democrats being voiceless on foreign policy, but comparisons to Dean’s antiestablishment message were inescapable.

Kerry’s advisers are mulling ways to counter Bush, although not immediately, including airing TV ads in northern Virginia or elsewhere to show that the Democrat will compete in even traditionally GOP states, advisers said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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