Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Last Stand for Kerry's Competitors ; Primaries in Tennessee and Virginia Tuesday Will Test His Strength in the South - and His Rivals' Ability to Stay in Race

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Last Stand for Kerry's Competitors ; Primaries in Tennessee and Virginia Tuesday Will Test His Strength in the South - and His Rivals' Ability to Stay in Race

Article excerpt

As Sen. John Kerry barrels toward the Democratic nomination, his opponents are facing what could very well be their last and best chance to slow him down - and to stay in the race.

Tuesday's primaries in Virginia and Tennessee represent a key opportunity for Senator Kerry to show that he can win contests in every region of the country, including the South - the one area that has eluded him so far. They will also test the strength of his momentum against opponents who hail from neighboring states and who have, until just a few days ago, outspent him significantly here.

Kerry's dominance - over the weekend he added delegate-heavy Michigan and Washington to his list of wins - has come unusually early for a multicandidate race, and it represents a sudden shift in a contest that just weeks ago seemed up for grabs. Yet if Sen. John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark are unable to post victories in Virginia and Tennessee, they will find it difficult to continue much longer. Likewise, while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has made next week's primary in Wisconsin a last stand, he may already have been fatally weakened by the loss in Washington, where he once had a strong network. The withdrawal of support from one of his top union backers has hurt him, too.

In many ways, Kerry has been helped - and his opponents hurt - by the presence of so many competitors in the race. Kerry's wins have garnered him the lion's share of airtime and money, leaving his opponents to battle for what remains of both. Every Kerry rival believes he could give the Massachusetts senator a tough fight, if only they could engage him one-on-one. "Our goal is to come out as the Kerry alternative," says an Edwards aide, of next Tuesday's contests.

There's even some evidence that it may not be in Kerry's best interest to see his opponents to drop out too soon. Although many Democrats have worried that a long primary battle would weaken the eventual nominee, over the past month the party's approval ratings have shot up significantly, as President Bush's have fallen. And while front-runners often come under harsh attack, Kerry has clearly benefited from a relatively friendly contest: At least two recent polls show him beating Mr. Bush in a head-to-head matchup.

"It's possible that Democrats will say to themselves, and to others, 'We want this contest to go on for a while,' " says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Victories in Virginia or Tennessee would help Kerry further present himself as the candidate with the broadest appeal, given the moderate leanings of many Southerners. With the Bush campaign already working to portray him as a Massachusetts liberal - and hinting they may run in part on cultural issues such as gay marriage - Tuesday's contests, coming in more socially conservative states, will offer a test of Kerry's strengths and weaknesses on that front. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.