Posted 4:31pm February 13
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry pulled farther ahead of his remaining rivals yesterday, winning resounding victories in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries. These two contests followed three caucuses over the weekend in Washington state, Michigan and Maine that Kerry also won.
Retired General Wesley Clark announced that he will be dropping out of the race following his two third place showings.
“The mountain got too steep to climb,” Matt Bennett, a Clark spokesman told reporters last night. Clark formally announced his withdrawal from the race from his home town of Little Rock, Arkansas.
“This old soldier will not fade away,” Clark told supporters saying that this was not the end of his fight. He said that he would support whoever won the Democratic nomination to beat President Bush.
Kerry’s wins in the two Southern states further solidified his position as a nationally viable candidate for the Democratic nomination.
“Once again, the message rings out loud and clear: Americans are voting for change — East and West, North, and now in the South,” Kerry told a crowd of supporters in Fairfax, Virginia.
He continued, “Together across the South, you have shown that mainstream values that we share, fairness, love of country, a belief in hope and in hard work, are more important than boundaries or birthplace.”
North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Clark both native Southerners, claimed home field advantage in the two states.
Clark announced that he will drop out of the race after finishing third in both contests. His campaign had concentrated resources in Tennessee, hoping for a strong second against Kerry. His staff had volunteered to have their pay suspended to free up money for advertising and other campaign activities.
Clark joined the race later than the other candidates. His announcement stirred a quick, positive response from many Democrats who felt that Clark’s national security experience as commander of NATO under Bill Clinton would make him look strong against President George W. Bush in a potential general election match up.
Clark still held a lead in New Hampshire until John Kerry’s surprising come from behind victory in the Iowa Caucus. Kerry’s New Englander status helped him come back in New Hampshire and Kerry’s service in Vietnam may have attracted votes who liked Clark for the same reasons.
Clark was able to secure his first electoral victory in Oklahoma last week, but the win was not decisive.
All three major campaigns are now hoping that former Clark supporters will go over to their candidate. Kerry shares a military background with Clark, Edwards shares Southern origins and Dean shares his status as a Washington outsider.
Kerry finished with 52 percent of the vote (54 delegates) in Virginia. Behind him were Edwards with 27 percent (28 delegates) and Clark with 9 percent. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean finished with 7 percent ahead of the Reverend Al Sharpton and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Ohio).
In Tennessee, Kerry finished with 41 percent of the vote (31 delegates), Edwards finished with 26 percent (20 delegates) and Clark finished with 23 percent (18 delegates). Dean, Sharpton and Kucinich all finished below five percent.
In primaries, delegates are assigned proportionally to all candidates who get over 15 percent of the vote.
As the race moves on to the Wisconsin primary next week, Edwards hopes that with his second-place showing and Clark’s absence, the race will become focused on him and Kerry.
“The voters who voted today in the election are saying to the country that we’re going to have a campaign and an election, not a coronation,” Edwards said to supporters.
On Larry King Live, Edwards was asked if he would consider running with John Kerry for Vice-President. In the past Edwards has answered similar questions by saying he was not interested in the Vice-Presidency, but he toned down his response last night, saying instead, “I am completely focused on being president of the United States. Not even considering or thinking about anything else.”
Dean is hoping to stage a comeback in Wisconsin.
“This is a big deal, the Wisconsin primary,” Dean said. “This is the chance to turn around a campaign that’s been managed by the media and the folks inside the Beltway. We can do better than this in this country.”
Formerly, Dean said that without a victory in Wisconsin he would have to withdrawal from the race, but he has since backed off that statement and has indicated a defeat in Wisconsin might not be the end of his campaign. Dean, the former front-runner for the nomination, has not won any of the fourteen primaries or caucuses held this season.
On February 14th, Nevada (16 delegates) and Washington, DC will hold caucuses. There are 72 delegates at stake in the Wisconsin primary, to be held on February 17.
March 2 marks “Super Tuesday”, the day on which the most delegates are chosen in the primary process. There will be party caucuses in Minnesota and primaries in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The number of pledged and unpledged delegates for the candidates still in the race is as follows: Kerry – 510, Dean – 182, Edwards – 163, Clark – 98, Sharpton – 12 and Kucinich – 2. 2,161 delegates are needed to secure a first ballot victory at the Democratic National Convention.