ST. LOUIS -- With just a week to go before Missouri's Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, John Kerry and John Edwards picked up key endorsements Tuesday from separate sides of the state.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay endorsed Kerry during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. Meanwhile, former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver endorsed Edwards, as did U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, who represents central and western Missouri.
Slay, like many Missouri Democrats, was a strong supporter of Dick Gephardt's presidential bid before the St. Louis congressman withdrew from the race last week after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. At the time, Slay said Gephardt's defeat "felt like a hard punch to the stomach for those of us who believe in Dick Gephardt."
But Slay said he has long been impressed by Kerry, whom he deemed a formidable opponent for President Bush in November.
Gephardt himself has declined to endorse one of his former rivals, and he did not return several phone calls.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, who represents urban St. Louis, also said he will not endorse any Democratic candidate in the state's primary.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor David Robertson said endorsements don't generally carry much weight. But, he said, this race is different.
Gephardt was expected to win Missouri easily. With the race suddenly up for grabs here, many voters are still getting to know the remaining contenders, Robertson said. So the endorsements lend credibility to the candidates.
After Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, the remaining Democratic hopefuls began turning more attention to the seven states with Feb. 3 primaries. Missouri's 74 pledged and 14 unpledged delegates are the most of those seven states.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Matt Blunt predicted that 23 percent of Missouri's 3.6 million registered voters would participate in next week's primary elections, which include Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates.