Kerry criticizes Bush on war; rivals say they'll stay in race

Monday, February 9, 2004

Fresh off wins in two caucus states, John Kerry sought a third victory Sunday while questioning President Bush's National Guard service and adding another endorsement. Democratic presidential rivals Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and John Edwards pledged to stay in the race, vowing not to be deterred by Kerry's successes.

Kerry, campaigning like a front-runner, ignored his primary opponents and criticized Bush on Iraq. He picked up backing from Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and awaited the results of Maine's Democratic caucuses, where 24 pledged delegates to the Democratic convention were at stake.

Clark, Dean and Edwards, appearing separately on the Sunday television talk shows, all said they would continue to challenge Kerry for the Democratic nomination despite the Massachusetts senator's advantage in the polls and in endorsements and his wins in nine of the first 11 primaries, including two contests on Saturday.

"Real voters are going to decide who the nominee is," Dean said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Dean, the former front-runner and winless since the start of voting, declined in separate interviews to repeat his earlier assertion that he would withdraw from the race if he lost the Feb. 17 Wisconsin primary.

Both Clark and Edwards said they expected to run well in the next three primaries -- Virginia and Tennessee on Tuesday and Wisconsin -- but would remain in the race regardless.

Clark, en route to a jobs forum in Racine, Wis., said on CNN that he would run at least through the March 2 "Super Tuesday" primaries, including in California, Ohio and New York.

"We've got a lot of support across this country," said Clark, a retired Army general. "We do expect to go on and do expect to be there on Super Tuesday."

Edwards noted on "Fox News Sunday" that some 75 percent of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will still be up for grabs after Wisconsin votes.

"I view this very much as a long-term process, and we're in this for the long term," said the North Carolina senator, who visited Baptist churches in Richmond, Va., before attending a Democratic dinner in Nashville, Tenn., that Clark also planned to attend.

Sizable lead in polls

American Research Group polls give Kerry sizable leads in all three states: 11 points over Edwards and 12 over Clark in Tennessee; 13 points over Edwards and 18 over Clark in Virginia; and 26 points over Clark and 31 over Edwards in Wisconsin. The margin of error in each poll taken last week was plus or minus 4 points.

Kerry also has more than twice as many delegates as his closest pursuer, with 412 to Dean's 174, according to an Associated Press tally. It takes 2,162 delegates to win the nomination.

Accepting Warner's endorsement in Richmond, Kerry said Bush had not fully answered questions about whether he fulfilled his National Guard service in Alabama during the Vietnam War.

"The issue here is, as I have heard it raised, is was he present and active in Alabama at the time he was supposed to be," said Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. "I don't have the answer to that question and just because you get an honorable discharge does not in fact answer that question."

In an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Bush said he reported for duty and that his critics were wrong.

"I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge," Bush said. "I've heard this -- I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I put in my time, proudly so."

Kerry, who watched Bush's interview with Warner at the governor's mansion, also took issue with Bush for saying that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had the ability to make weapons.

"This is a far cry from what the president and his administration told the people in 2002," he said.

Former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has said he does not believe Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction Bush cited as the main reason for going to war.

Dean, whose candidacy first gained traction because of his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War, said Bush did not tell the truth about Iraq.

"The president, for whatever reason, has not been truthful with the American people about why we went to war," Dean said on CBS.

AP Political Writer Ron Fournier in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

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