WASHINGTON – Taking no time to relax after the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic presidential candidates are considering how to use their financial assets and limited time to maximize their chances of winning in the seven states going to the polls on Feb. 3.
The candidates need to calculate the best way to win the 269 delegates at stake in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina, more than 12 percent of the 2,161 delegates needed to win the nomination. Iowa had 45 delegates; New Hampshire, 22.
On Wednesday, New Hampshire victor John Kerry (search) was making a quick stop in his hometown of Boston before heading to Missouri, a state that is now wide open after favorite son Dick Gephardt pulled out of the race following a disappointing fourth-place showing in Iowa. Kerry promised to visit and run ads in each state as he campaigns virtually nonstop in the week before the Feb. 3 races.
Kerry plans to focus much of his time on Missouri, with its 74 pledged delegates, despite the expensive proposition of buying time in that media market. A win in Missouri, a bellwether state that is expected to be a battleground in the general election, would allow Kerry to claim national appeal and momentum.
Kerry is also refusing to cede South Carolina to the Southern-bred candidates Wesley Clark (search) and John Edwards (search). A January 23-24 American Research Group poll shows Edwards leading in the state with 21 percent, followed by Kerry with 17 percent, Al Sharpton (search) with 15 percent and Clark with 14 percent. Kerry plans to spend all day Thursday and half of Friday in the Palmetto State before heading to Delaware.
After losing in head-to-head match-ups with Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire, Howard Dean (search) is seeking wins in New Mexico and Arizona, states where Kerry is not directing his focus. According to a Jan. 23-25 ARG poll, Dean is running fourth in Arizona, behind Kerry, Clark and Edwards. A Jan. 12-15 Albuquerque Journal poll shows Dean leading in the state, though the poll was taken before his Iowa defeat on Jan. 19.
Dean aides say their main focus will not be on South Carolina because in a general election it is a GOP state. The campaign is also leaning against a major fight in Missouri because it is costly to run ads there and they would rather avoid another showdown with Kerry, the aides said.
"We do not consider South Carolina and Missouri to be battleground states," said Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. He added that Dean would be looking beyond the Feb. 3 states to Michigan and Washington on Feb. 7 and Wisconsin on Feb. 17.
"We're in good shape — now we have got to raise enough money to go up on media in these states and that is going to take some time," Dean told Fox News. "That's a challenge for all the candidates, but we're in very good shape on the ground in an awful lot of states. In California we're in great shape, we are in great shape in New York, we're in great shape in Texas on March 9. So we've got a solid group of people all over the country, out quite a bit further than the next twelve days."
Unlike most of his opponents who are heading South or West after the New Hampshire results, Dean was driving home to Burlington, where he will spend almost four hours on Wednesday doing satellite interviews with television outlets in 12 states. He will fly to South Carolina on Thursday for a debate and is expected to campaign in Missouri on Friday.
Dean still has to pick up some states on Feb. 3, say political pundits.
"He can stay in until March 2; I think he'll probably win a few states, and maybe even on ... Feb. 7, especially Michigan, which is where I think he will try to do well," said Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol. "A lot can happen over a month, and I don't think Dean is going to be forced out."
While Dean proves himself elsewhere, South Carolina may be vital proving ground for Edwards. After top-three showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, his campaign is hoping to score its first win in South Carolina, the state where Edwards was born.
"I think we're going back down south with greater momentum than anyone ever thought we would," said David Axelrod, Edwards' media consultant.
However, Edwards will also mount a multi-state campaign, and will make a campaign stop in South Carolina before heading to Missouri and Oklahoma on Wednesday, though he will spend much of the rest of the week stumping for support in the first-in-the-South primary.
But an Edwards loss in South Carolina could signal the death knell for his campaign.
"South Carolina becomes the real crossroad — if Kerry can beat Edwards in South Carolina, that will probably clinch the nomination," said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J.
But half of South Carolina's Democratic voters are black, boosting Sharpton's chances of success there. Sharpton, who barely registers in polls outside of South Carolina, has been focusing on that state and is likely to have his biggest impact there.
"We have to come in strong in South Carolina, and we will also win delegates in Missouri as well as Delaware next Tuesday. Ultimately, delegates is the key to this, which is why candidates have opted to go to different states. I think we’ll surprise people in key states, and that will be the impetus for staying in," Sharpton, speaking from South Carolina, told Fox News.
"Al Sharpton, down in South Carolina, could do damage to Edwards," said National Public Radio national correspondent Juan Williams. "If that's the case, if Kerry is able to do well, Edwards is not able to dominate, that's another boost for Kerry."
Clark's campaign views South Carolina as so crucial that the retired general was heading immediately there after leaving New Hampshire. As an Arkansan, he hopes to be well received elsewhere in Dixie, as well as get a boost because of his military career from a state with the nation's highest population of active and retired military. Clark is also airing ads in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
After skipping the Iowa caucuses and finishing fifth in New Hampshire, Joe Lieberman (search) was headed to Delaware and then Oklahoma to keep plowing forward. As a centrist Democrat, his campaign is hoping to have better success in the South and West. Lieberman made an early play in South Carolina but has since focused ads in Arizona and Oklahoma.
Lieberman has family in Oklahoma, including a sister in Norman, and has spent much time there. However, poll numbers show that Lieberman has had a hard time gaining traction, and he is running fourth in Oklahoma with just 10 percent support, behind Kerry, Clark and Edwards, according to a Jan. 23-25 ARG poll.
The Feb. 3 contests mark the first round of multi-state primaries, spelling an end to the town-to-town, door-to-door brand of politicking exalted in Iowa and New Hampshire. The races also will help winnow the remaining field, as lagging candidates find it difficult to raise funds to proceed.
"Once you have somebody who emerges as the front-runner, the ones who are losing in the process will have trouble raising money. And they can't campaign without money," said Don Fowler, former Democratic Party chairman and a longtime South Carolina resident.
Democratic leaders hope to see a nominee emerge sometime over the next few weeks under this year's compressed primary schedule. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) devised the front-loaded calendar to produce an early nominee.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and Liza Porteus and the Associated Press contributed to this report.