MANCHESTER, N.H. – John Kerry (search) said his New Hampshire victory shows he has the determination to go the distance and defeat President Bush, and he immediately charted an aggressive schedule to advance that goal.
Accepting his victory before a cheering crowd of backers, Kerry thanked voters "for lifting up this campaign and the cause of an America that belongs not to the privileged, not to the few, but to all the people."
In his speech, Kerry singled out a band of veterans that has traveled with him and stumped tirelessly on his behalf as he made his record as a war hero in Vietnam (search) central to his appeal.
"In the hardest moments of the past month I depended on the same band of brothers I depended on some 30 years ago," said Kerry. "We're a little older, a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country."
"I'm ready to lead our party to victory," Kerry told The Associated Press in an interview after Tuesday's big win.
Kerry, who trailed by 25 points just weeks ago, called his New Hampshire (search) win "a huge turnaround and an upset."
"We were written off for months and plugged on and showed people we have determination," he said.
With his second straight win, Kerry cemented his status as the front-runner in the race, with all the pitfalls that can bring. Kerry pronounced himself ready.
"I've been through tough races before," he said.
Kerry closed out his New Hampshire campaign casting himself in sharply populist terms as the candidate willing to do battle with powerful special interests and he had a message for those groups.
"I have spent my whole life fighting against powerful interests — and I've only just begun to fight," said Kerry.
Kerry headed to a hotel ballroom jammed far beyond capacity with thousands of backers, who occasionally interrupted his speech to chant "bring it on." That's one of his standard stump lines, and Kerry gave them a heated call to arms, saying he would seek "a prosperity where we will reduce the poverty of millions rather than reducing the taxes of millionaires."
The raucous backers spilled out on the streets surrounding the downtown hotel, chanting and waving signs in the frigid night air.
Kerry was moving aggressively to compete in the seven-state contest looming Feb. 3, where 269 delegates are at stake. That dwarfs the first two tests, offering 12 percent of the delegates needed to claim the nomination.
Kerry said he'll campaign in all seven of those states, including tiny North Dakota, and he's purchased television commercials in all seven as well, including very expensive Missouri. Kerry was headed to Missouri on Wednesday as his first stop after the New Hampshire primary, and he plans on returning for campaign appearances Saturday.
With 74 delegates and favorite son Rep Dick Gephardt now out of the race, Missouri is the biggest prize of all on Feb. 3. He also plans a heavy focus on South Carolina, another big prize that day. He's targeting the 400,000 veterans in South Carolina, though he'll likely face competition from retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Kerry is only now beginning to focus on those states, however, while some of his rivals have been campaigning and running television spots for weeks.
Surveys of those casting ballots showed Kerry's support was broad, roughly equal between women and men and among all age groups. Kerry got the strongest vote from voters who described their views as moderate, not quite half the electorate. He got one-third of the vote from voters who described themselves as liberal, and had roughly equal backing from independents and Democrats.
About six in 10 voters who said experience was important voted for Kerry, and six in 10 who said the ability to beat Bush was important went for Kerry. More than half of his supporters said they made up their mind in the last week.
The exit polls were conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International. The poll questioned 1,846 voters in the Democratic primary as they came out of polling place and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.