WASHINGTON - Front-running presidential contender John Kerry campaigned from border to border yesterday, hoping to expand his lead for the Democratic nomination in tomorrow's big round of primaries and caucuses.
The Massachusetts senator rallied with supporters in North Dakota, the state with the fewest delegates up for grabs in tomorrow's tests. Polls show Kerry leading in at least five of the seven states and running within striking distance in the others.
Kerry kept his focus on President Bush at the rally of 600 supporters in Fargo, N.D. He accused administration officials of catering to the pharmaceutical companies in fashioning a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, according to the Associated Press.
"We learned that in their incredible cave-in to the powerful interests of the drug companies of America, they dunned the taxpayers of our nation $139 billion extra so they can line the pockets of people who contributed to their campaign," Kerry said.
Last week, the administration estimated the cost of the prescription drug benefit at $534 billion over 10 years, substantially more than the $395 billion figure the White House and Republican leaders used when Congress debated the measure.
Later, Kerry flew to New Mexico, where he was to watch the Super Bowl with voters in Albuquerque. Along with tomorrow's primary in neighboring Arizona, New Mexico's caucuses are the first test of Hispanic voting strength in the 2004 race.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina spent the day campaigning across South Carolina, a state that he says is a must-win for him.
Edwards hit Kerry on the issue of trade, a top concern of voters in South Carolina, which has been hurt by plant shutdowns and job losses to other countries. He criticized Kerry for supporting the Clinton-era free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, which Congress approved before Edwards was elected to the Senate.
"There are differences between John Kerry and John Edwards, including the place we come from, the way we grew up, my own personal experience with some of these issues like job-loss issues," Edwards said on CBS's Face the Nation.
Edwards said he could bring "real change" to Washington. "I know how the Congress works. I know enough about how it operates to get things done. But ... I haven't been there for 15 or 20 years and become part of that system," he said.
Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who lives in Arkansas, is concentrating on the adjoining state of Oklahoma, where the latest polls showed that his lead over Kerry is narrowing. During a campaign stop in Lawton, not far from the Fort Sill Army base, Clark held a reunion with a former Army comrade, Mike McClintic, who as a 22-year-old private protected Clark after he was shot on a combat mission in Vietnam in 1970.
"I heard this buzzing, and my rifle fell out of my hand. I looked down to pick up my rifle and saw a piece of bone sticking out of my hand," Clark said. "I remember saying to Mike, I said, 'My God, I've been shot.' What I remember him saying to me is, 'Well, get down!' "
"Mike, you saved my life," Clark said, shaking McClintic's hand.
A similar reunion before the Iowa caucuses between Kerry and a former Navy crewmate from Vietnam, who said he owed his life to Kerry, has been credited with humanizing the senator, who is often depicted as cold and aloof.
In advance of tomorrow's vote, several candidates who aren't expected to do well were looking ahead to other states, and explaining why they could survive another winless election day.
Former Gov. Howard Dean said he wouldn't leave the race, even if he is shut out in the seven states that vote tomorrow and the three that vote this weekend. Former Vice President Al Gore, who has endorsed Dean, campaigned on the Vermonter's behalf at African-American churches in Michigan, which votes Saturday.
"I'm not going to do anything that's going to harm the Democratic Party if we get blown out again and again and again," Dean said on NBC's Meet the Press. "But I'm going to be in this race as long as I think I can win, and I've always said I don't think this race is going to be decided until after March 2nd."
Dean said that the contest "is about delegates" and that he has more than anyone, including Kerry. According to the latest Associated Press survey of pledged and unpledged delegates, Dean has 114 to Kerry's 103. A total of 2,162 are needed to win the nomination at this summer's national convention.
Dean campaigned in Milwaukee yesterday for the Feb. 17 Wisconsin primary, in which he hopes to defeat Kerry.
Dean's campaign raised $41.3 million last year, a record amount for a Democratic candidate, but has spent nearly all of it. Dean said he "took an enormous gamble, and it didn't work" - risking everything on the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, which he lost.
Dean said Democrats would be making a mistake if they chose Kerry as their nominee. Referring to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which found that Kerry raised more money from lobbyists than any other senator, Dean said the party "needs a new face in front of it. I don't think we can do business the old way."
Kerry's campaign acknowledges that he has received contributions from lobbyists, but said it hasn't prevented him from fighting special-interest groups on behalf of ordinary Americans.
Another trailing candidate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, picked up an endorsement from the largest newspaper in South Carolina, The State of Columbia, to go along with another endorsement by the largest paper in Arizona, the Arizona Republic. However, a Los Angeles Times/CNN poll released over the weekend showed Lieberman running far back, with less than 5 percent of likely primary voters in each of those states saying they would vote for him.
Lieberman's best chance to keep his campaign alive may be in Delaware, where he has spent more time and money than his rivals but where polling shows him trailing Kerry. "We're going to let the voters speak," Lieberman said on CNN's Late Edition. He refused to say that he would end his campaign if he didn't win tomorrow.
"The very fact that Howard Dean is where he is now after - about three weeks ago - everybody said he had a lock on the nomination, ought to make both the pundits and the voters hesitant to seal this up for the current front-runner before more of the voters across America have had a chance to vote for a truly electable Democrat. And that's me," Lieberman said. "The plan is to keep going."
Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe has hinted that candidates who haven't won a state after tomorrow's primaries should withdraw from the race. Yesterday, he said it wasn't up to him determine when a candidate should quit.
"If you can't mathematically win, then you need to reassess your candidacy," he said on ABC's This Week. He predicted that the race would be over by March 10, at which point 37 states will have held primaries or caucuses.