Following a resounding victory for Sen. John Kerry in New Hampshire's primary, the Democratic presidential contenders weighed their next moves Wednesday, with most immediately heading to states that hold primaries next week.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean came in second in Tuesday's contest, followed by Wesley Clark, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Al Sharpton.
The battle for the Democratic nomination now goes nationwide, starting with next Tuesday's primaries. Over the next week, airport rallies and multimillion-dollar ad campaigns will replace the handshake-to-handshake coziness of New Hampshire's primary and last week's caucuses in Iowa, which Kerry also won.
A total of 269 delegates are at stake Tuesday in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Carolina. That is more than 12 percent of the 2,159 needed for the nomination and far more than the 67 delegates claimed so far in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Kerry campaign said it would air new television ads in each of the seven states starting Wednesday. Kerry himself promised to campaign in all seven, beginning Wednesday in St. Louis and moving on later in the day to South Carolina, where a presidential debate is set for Thursday.
Kerry got a big endorsement Wednesday in South Carolina from Rep. Jim Clyburn. The backing of the six-term Democratic congressman, the dominant black politician in his state, is critical in South Carolina, where almost half the voters in the Feb. 3 primary are expected to be minorities.
Dean, for his part, was spending Wednesday huddled with staff in his hometown of Burlington, Vt., plotting strategy and conducting interviews with TV stations in 12 upcoming primary states. He plans to campaign Thursday in Greenville, S.C., site of that evening's debate, and in the Columbia area on Friday.
Following Tuesday's primaries, Michigan and Washington state hold theirs three days later, on Feb. 7.
New Hampshire results
Final returns in New Hampshire gave Kerry 84,229 votes, or 38 percent. Dean placed second with 57,788 votes, or 26 percent, and the race for a distant third ended in Clark’s favor in a squeaker. He finished with 27,254 votes, or 12 percent, only 839 votes more than went to Edwards, also at 12 percent.
Lieberman trailed with 18,829 votes, or 9 percent, and Kucinich got 3,104 votes, or 1 percent. Bush also was on the ballot in a Republican primary in which he faced no major opposition.
Kerry celebrated his victory with a speech before supporters in Manchester. “I love New Hampshire!” Kerry said, beginning his speech with: “If I am president ... ,” only to be be interrupted by chants of “when, when, when.” Smiling, the senator changed his preamble: “When I am president ...”
For his part, Dean cast his finish as good enough. “We really are going to win this thing, aren’t we?” he told enthusiastic supporters.
Earlier in the evening, Dean told supporters from 25 states in a conference call: “We're optimistic. We've got a full schedule for the next 10 days in 12 states.”
Appearing Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, Dean claimed that "the only way to beat Bush is to bring in new voters" and that only he could do that given his grass-roots campaign.
Less than a month ago, Dean had a 25-point lead in New Hampshire, an edge in national polls and visions of cementing his front-runner status with a sweep of the initial contests. But a spate of missteps led to a third-place finish in Iowa, where a shrill election-night speech underscored concerns about his temperament and judgment.
Top two claim all delegates
In New Hampshire, Kerry and Dean were far ahead of the rest of the pack, suggesting that the campaign could be settling into a two-man race. They were projected to divide all 22 of the state’s convention delegates between themselves, with Kerry claiming the lion’s share of 13.
But Clark, Edwards and even Lieberman claimed the race was far from over.
“New Hampshire is obviously a place, with Dean and Kerry and to a lesser extent Senator [Joseph] Lieberman — who’s from a little further away — dominated by New Englanders,” Edwards told NBC News. “ to Oklahoma, South Carolina and Missouri, New Mexico — other places where it’s a more level playing field.”
Appearing Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, Edwards acknowledged he'd have to win South Carolina to stay in the race, but quickly added that he intended to do so. When asked whether he’d run as a vice presidential candidate, he ruled it out. “No. No. Final. I don’t want to be vice president. I’m running for president.”
On Tuesday night, Edwards flew to South Carolina, where he'll campaign Wednesday before visiting Oklahoma and Missouri.
Clark, too, , saying: “Tonight, we leave New Hampshire as one of the Final Four. ... We must beat George W. Bush. I can — and I will.”
Clark was traveling Wednesday to Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Weather led him to postpone a visit to South Carolina.
Lieberman, who had said he needed to finish at least third to survive, dismissed speculation that he would suspend his campaign, saying Tuesday night that he was happy with what he considered a three-way tie with Clark and Edwards.
Lieberman planned to campaign Wednesday in Oklahoma.
Economy, Iraq war take center stage
New Hampshire turnout topped 200,000, smashing the record of 168,000 for the state’s Democrats in 1992.
Exit surveys and analysis of selected precincts by NBC News indicated strong sentiment against the war in Iraq, with early voters saying by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio that they opposed the war.
However, the war was not the biggest issue in voters’ minds, the survey indicated. Instead, their biggest concerns were the economy and health care, on which the candidates have shown less dramatic differences.
Most of the discontent on the economy was directed at President Bush, not at a particular Democrat. That led to an unusual result on a standard question in such surveys: why individual voters chose the candidate they supported.
Commonly, polling experts said, voters say they choose their candidate because he agrees with them on the issues. The New Hampshire exit surveys indicated, however, that a strong plurality of voters picked their candidate Tuesday because they considered him most likely to defeat Bush in November.
That appeared to translate into support for Kerry.
“It is a greater concern this year than in the 25 years I’ve been involved in politics here in New Hampshire, and I think it has to be worrisome to the Republican White House,” former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Kerry’s national chairwoman, told NBC News.