Kerry strengthens campaign lead

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry rolled up big victories and a pile of delegates in five states Tuesday night, while rivals John Edwards and Wesley Clark kept their candidacies alive with singular triumphs in a dramatic cross-country contest.

Edwards easily won his native South Carolina and Clark, a retired Army general from Arkansas, eked out victory in neighboring Oklahoma. Howard Dean earned no wins and a handful of delegates, his candidacy in peril. Joe Lieberman was shut out, too, and dropped out of the race.

Kerry was the runaway winner both statewide in Missouri and in Cape Girardeau County, where Democratic voters talked of beating President Bush.

"I think he has the best chance to defeat the Republicans," said Jean Underberg of Cape Girardeau who voted for Kerry.

"He looks like a winner," said Kerry supporter William McKinnis of Cape Girardeau.

Richard Hengst punched his ballot for Kerry at the Arena Building. "He is pro-union and a veteran," Hengst said.

But Rhonda Smith of Cape Girardeau said she voted for Edwards because he opposes same-sex marriages.

Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, captured 50 percent of the vote in Missouri with 95 percent counted. Edwards was second with 25 percent.

In Missouri's GOP primary, President Bush got 119,002 votes, or 95 percent.

Kerry's margin of victory in the Show Me State was mirrored in Cape Girardeau County where he won 50.9 percent of the Democratic ballots cast compared to 26.9 percent for Edwards in a field of 11 candidates.

He won 32 of 35 precincts in the county. Edwards won two precincts -- Oak Ridge and Old Appleton -- and the two candidates finished tied for first in the Friedheim precinct.

But voter turnout was light. Only 8 percent of the county's registered voters -- or 3,797 people -- went to the polls.

That was less than the 17 percent to 18 percent turnout that Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller had projected.

Miller said both the Republican and Democratic parties had done little locally to get out the vote. He said the low turnout also reflected the lack of a real contest among Republicans and the fact that none of the major candidates campaigned here.

Some voters, he said, weren't even aware there was a Republican primary.

More than 2,800 voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary in Cape Girardeau County. President Bush was an easy winner in a three-candidate contest on the Republican side that drew 892 voters to the polls.

Eighteen voters cast ballots for Libertarian candidates.

"It's a huge night," Kerry told The Associated Press after racking up victories in Missouri, Arizona, North Dakota, New Mexico and Delaware. "I'm stunned by it."

Kerry dismissed Edwards' singular win. "I compliment John Edwards, but I think you have to run a national campaign, and I think that's what we've shown tonight," the four-term senator said. "You can't cherry-pick the presidency."

Missouri and Arizona were the night's biggest prizes, with 129 delegates -- nearly half of the 269 pledged delegates at stake Tuesday.

Of the 269 pledged delegates at stake Tuesday night, an AP analysis showed Kerry winning 88, Edwards 58, Clark 25, Dean three and Al Sharpton one, with 94 yet to be allocated. Kerry won the two most delegate-rich states, Missouri and Arizona, while Clark and Edwards divided the next two biggest prizes.

Edwards had said he must win South Carolina, and he did by dominating among voters who said they most value a candidate who cares about people like them.

"We won South Carolina in a resounding fashion and won both the African-American and white vote in South Carolina, and we go from here to other states -- Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee," Edwards told the AP. "It's very easy to lay out the map to get us to the nomination."

To the roar of his supporters, Edwards declared, "The politics of lifting people up beats the politics of beating people down."

Clark, a retired Army general from Arkansas, needed a victory in neighboring Oklahoma to keep his candidacy alive. As the votes were being counted, Clark told reporters, "This could be over. It could be a long way from over, and it could be impacted tomorrow by something we don't know about."

Dean won nothing but a handful of delegates, and advisers privately acknowledged that his chances for a political revival were slim at best.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

MISSOURI PRIMARY EXIT POLL FINDINGS

Key preliminary findings from an exit poll of voters in Missouri's primary election:

ELECTABILITY

About a quarter of voters said the ability to beat President Bush was the candidate quality that mattered most. Among those voters, about 80 percent favored Sen. John Kerry.

GEOGRAPHY

Kerry won easily almost everywhere, from the urban areas and suburbs to the rural areas of northern Missouri and the Bootheel. In southwest Missouri, Kerry and Sen. John Edwards ran about even.

AGE

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean did best among voters 44 and younger, getting about 16 percent of the vote. But Kerry still won that age group with about 45 percent. Kerry got nearly 30 percent of the vote of those aged 30 to 44. Kerry was strongest among voters 65 and older -- about one-quarter of all Missouri voters -- with about 60 percent of their vote.

GENDER

Kerry did equally well among men and women, with about half of each vote.

BLACKS

About 15 percent of voters were black, and about half supported Kerry. The Rev. Al Sharpton, the only black candidate and a frequent activist in St. Louis area protests, was second among blacks with about 15 percent of the vote.

ECONOMY

Nearly half of the Democratic primary voters said their financial situation was worse today than four years ago, four-in-10 said it was about the same, and just 10 percent said it was better. Kerry and Edwards drew similar support among those in better financial shape.

LABOR UNIONS

About 20 percent of voters said they belonged to a labor union, and nearly 60 percent of union members supported Kerry.

IDEOLOGY

Missouri Democratic primary voters were nearly evenly split between those who called themselves liberals and moderates, with both groups making up about two-fifths of the vote. Kerry carried more than half of the vote from each group.

RELIGION

About half of voters called themselves Protestants or other Christians, while about a quarter said they were Catholic. Kerry, who is Roman Catholic, was favored by about half of Protestants/other Christians and by about 60 percent of Catholics.

LATE DECIDING

About half of Missouri Democratic primary voters made their voting decision within the past week, and half of them went with Kerry. Among the four-in-10 who decided in the last month or longer, about 55 percent favored Kerry.

WAR IN IRAQ

About three-fifths of Missouri Democratic primary voters disapprove of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Among those who disapprove, more than half supported Kerry.

Exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International among 1,378 Missouri Democratic primary voters as they left precincts Tuesday. Margin of sampling error plus or minus 4 percentage points for the overall sample, larger for subgroups.

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