ST. LOUIS – Fueled by another victory and a slew of endorsements from high-profile Democrats, John Kerry (search) said Wednesday that his campaign was "going in strong" into the upcoming round of nominating contests next week.
"We're going in in a competitive position," Kerry told reporters traveling on his campaign airplane.
Kerry, who has vowed to campaign in each of the seven states holding primaries next Tuesday, started with Missouri (search), where 74 delegates to the Democratic convention are the single biggest prize next week. He plans a return trip to the state on Saturday.
"We're going in strong," Kerry said, declining specifics.
Kerry came to St. Louis (search) to collect important endorsements from some big names in Missouri Democratic politics, ranging from St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to former Sens. Jean Carnahan and Tom Eagleton.
Others were expected. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's top black Democrat, was to give a coveted endorsement to Kerry on Thursday. Blacks make up about 30 percent of South Carolina's population, and may represent up to half of those who vote next Tuesday.
Kerry's swing through Missouri came on the heels of his solid victory Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary. Kerry said he was basking little in that win and was quickly turning his attention to the next round of contests.
"Now I'm focused on Missouri and the other six states, I'm not looking back," Kerry said. "I have to stay focused on each one of these states."
Kerry moved quickly to position himself to challenge his rivals for the 269 pledged delegates at stake in the seven states. He bought television advertising time in all of them, including very expensive Missouri.
After his New Hampshire win, Kerry slipped away to his Boston home to spend a night in his own bed, repack his suitcase and get a haircut. He reported sleeping until 8 a.m. Wednesday.
"It's wonderful to go home, but all of my papers were strewn all over the floor of my den," Kerry said.
Back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire have made Kerry the clear front-runner in the race, though he pledged to campaign with an underdog's intensity. He also promised to keep listening to "real people."
"That's made me a better candidate," said Kerry, whose campaign appeared to be dying before his double-barreled victories. "I'm going to continue to do retail politics. I want to talk to real people and listen to their concerns."
Kerry was also collecting an endorsement from Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who remained neutral during his state's caucuses.
Vilsack and Carnahan said Kerry offers Democrats the best opportunity to defeat President Bush in November. Carnahan, who served for two years with Kerry in the Senate, said Kerry's military service and national security policies had swayed her to his side.
A day earlier, Kerry gained backing from New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Kerry's campaign also said the governors of Michigan and Arizona were close to endorsing him.
Kerry told reporters Wednesday he was "thrilled" with the endorsements but that he would continue to campaign on the economy and health care.
"These are the real things that matter to Americans," he said. "I'm a guy who doesn't give up. I'm going to fight for people."
After Missouri, Kerry was headed to South Carolina, where he likely will face competition for the veterans' vote from retired Gen. Wesley Clark, as well as from Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
After a night at home, Kerry appeared relaxed, tossing a football with aides on his airplane and talking about arranging a hockey exhibition with the Detroit Red Wings. He held a similar show in New Hampshire last weekend with the Boston Bruins.