And then there were five.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry easily won Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia and Tennessee; victories his campaign said proved he could compete in all parts of the country against President George W. Bush in the general election.
Aided by the rapid pace of this year’s primary schedule, Kerry has been riding a wave of popular support since his come-from-behind victory in the Iowa caucuses last month. Rivals have struggled to keep up, but the swiftness of the primaries benefits Kerry’s cause. As a front runner, he’ll receive more media coverage; which is invaluable with a large number of states and scarce campaign funds to pay for advertising.
Retired General Wesley Clark dropped out of the race yesterday after poor showings in the two Southern states. The losses disproved the Arkansas native’s assertion that only a Southerner could do well below the Mason-Dixon line.
Clark’s withdrawal left Kerry with serious competition from only North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Vermont governor Howard Dean; two long-shot candidates. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton also remain in the race.
Dean, who was once the front-runner, but has yet to win any state, has vowed to stay in the race until “Super Tuesday,” March 2. On that day, 10 states with large numbers of delegates – including California and New York – go to the polls. Edwards said he will fight for the nomination until the last primary is over.
Super Tuesday may cement Kerry’s victory if he wins a majority of the states, which together have more than 25 percent of the 4,322 delegates. Kerry currently has 435 delegates, more than twice as many as his closest rival, Dean, with 182, according to calculations by the Associated Press. Edwards has 142 delegates.
A candidate needs 2,162 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.
Kerry seems poised for victory, barring any major stumbles, according to Democratic analysts.
“Kerry wasn’t even on the radar screen four weeks ago,” Tennessee state Democratic chairman Randall A. Button said Wednesday in a New York Times article. “But the Iowa bounce was real. It gained velocity in New Hampshire. He hasn’t really been here, but he has been getting all this national media exposure, and he has this persona as someone who can beat Bush.”
Kerry’s wins in Iowa and New Hampshire translated into greater media coverage of his campaign, which was a boon that assisted in spreading his message to all of the states with upcoming primaries. His rivals, meanwhile, had to spend more campaign money in order to increase their exposure in states where they were not well known.
The Democratic Party set up the rapid primary schedule to ensure that a candidate would be selected early. Party officials would have time to unify behind the candidate for a long battle against Bush during the spring and summer before the official nominating conventions at the end of the summer.
The formula is working to Kerry’s advantage; so far he has won 12 of 14 primaries held. Many Democratic leaders are calling for the party to unite behind the Massachusetts senator, and Kerry is already beginning to speak out against Bush. But as Dean could tell Kerry, being the front-runner does not guarantee anything.
Brian WhiteJosephine Munis can be reached at email@example.com