John Kerry (search) is the clear front-runner in the Democratic presidential race with seven out of nine primary and caucus wins, but all the candidates are sharpening their focus on defeating President Bush in November.
Meanwhile, they continued to take slaps at each other Wednesday while trying to convince voters heading to the polls this weekend and afterward that they're the best candidate for the job.
"For the second time in a few days, a New England patriot has won on the road," Kerry told supporters in Washington state Tuesday night, referring to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win on Sunday, after winning Arizona, Missouri and Delaware and caucus victories in North Dakota and New Mexico on Tuesday.
"We will take nothing for granted, we will compete everywhere and in November, we will beat George W. Bush."
Kerry was to campaign in Maine and Michigan on Thursday. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), who won South Carolina, was to appear on CBS' "Late Night With David Letterman" Wednesday to read the "Top 10 List" and was expected to campaign briefly this week in Michigan.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark (search), who was declared the winner in Oklahoma by The Associated Press, was billing himself as an "old soldier from Arkansas" in Tennessee. Aides said he was scaling back campaign plans in Virginia. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) was campaigning in Washington.
Tennessee and Virginia vote next Tuesday after weekend contests in Michigan, Washington and Maine.
Of the 269 delegates up for grabs Tuesday, Kerry won 144, Edwards 66, Clark 50, Dean seven and the Rev. Al Sharpton two. Tuesday's results pushed Kerry to nearly 250 of the 2,162 delegates needed for the nomination.
There are no public polls in Washington or Maine, but strategists for all four campaigns said Kerry should win easily. Internal polls show him safely leading in both states, sources close to the Massachusetts senator said. In Michigan, where 128 delegates are at stake, polls show Kerry leading Edwards and Dean by more than 40 percentage points. He also has the endorsement of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Edwards doesn't expect any wins this weekend until the race next Tuesday when Virginia and Tennessee hold their contests.
Edwards and Kerry have launched TV ads in Tennessee and Virginia. Edwards is setting his sights on the Feb. 17 Wisconsin primary. Kerry picked up endorsements from the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers (search) and Syracuse, N.Y., Mayor Matthew Driscoll.
Even though the candidates paint the campaign as one that's still one of the survival of the fittest, some experts say there's already a clear winner.
"It's Kerry," said former White House official Leslie Sanchez. "Lets' be real, this is like an episode of "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" — everybody knows who the bride's groom is going to be but no one's really excited about it."
'Bring It On'
"People want somebody who can beat Bush; that's what it's all about," Tony Coelho, former Democratic National Committee chairman, told Fox News.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, made a special point to thank the nation's veterans for supporting him and said, "I will be a champion for them in the Oval Office and that patriotism is defined by never forgetting those who wore the uniform of our country.
"And if George W. Bush wants to make national security the central issue in this campaign, I have three words for him I know he understands: Bring it on."
Clark also took a shot at the incumbent.
"George W. Bush has had three years to keep our country moving forward," he said during his victory speech. "He's moved it in the wrong direction. He's set us back. Three million jobs lost, 44 million Americans without health insurance. And an unnecessary war that's resulted in a mess in Iraq."
Added Dean, who placed third in Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota on Tuesday: "We need a different kind of leader with our country ... this election is not just about changing president. Lord, any one of us can do a better job than George W. Bush."
An Eye for an Eye
Clark, Edwards and Dean hope to rise out of the Wisconsin contests as the only alternative to Kerry when the race turns to contests in California, New York and eight other "Super Tuesday" states March 2.
Clark tried to point out inconsistencies with his opponents' records.
"I don't understand how guys like John Kerry and John Edwards, my two opponents here in Tennessee, can criticize the No Child Left Behind Act (search) that President Bush originated when they themselves voted for it," he told supporters in West Tennessee on Wednesday.
"I don't know how John Kerry and John Edwards can claim to defend civil liberties and criticize the Patriot Act. They voted for it. John Kerry and John Edwards are criticizing the war in Iraq even though they gave him the blank check and voted for it."
Dean, who continued to take often nameless jabs at his opponents, predicted Wednesday that he would win Washington and described the race as "a fundamental disagreement about the very nature of what it means to be an American."
He continued: "We have never so badly needed a real change in leadership."
Edwards tried to paint the contest as a two-person race.
"This is a very fluid race. It looks like it's narrowed down to two, or maybe three, candidates," Edwards said in Memphis, Tenn. "And I think if it's two, it's myself and Senator Kerry. I'll let General Clark argue for whether he should be No. 3."
Touting his double-digit South Carolina victory, Edwards has e-mailed supporters a plea for money, saying, "Help provide the resources needed for the victories ahead."
But Kerry, who has the most allies, endorsements and resources, also wrote potential donors an e-mail encouraging them to join a winning campaign. "This is your chance," he said.
Clark staffers said their campaign has enough money and resources to carry on, despite the slimmer-than-expected tentative win in Oklahoma.
But about 100 of his staffers have voluntarily agreed to forgo pay for a week to help fund campaign ads in Tennessee. Clark has spent roughly $1 million in television, radio and direct mail ads in the state.
"It's absolutely untrue" that the campaign is out of money, said Eli Segal, the campaign chairman, but rather "they did it for the good of the cause."
A Kerry-Edwards, or Edwards-Kerry Ticket?
Asked how he can stop Kerry's momentum, Edwards told Fox News, "I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing ... talking about what voters are concerned about, instead of just the politics."
Both Kerry and Edwards said it was "inappropriate" to postulate on a Kerry-Edwards ticket in November.
"Senator Kerry has set the tone and is focused on winning the nomination," Michael Meehan, a senior campaign adviser for Kerry, told Fox News. "We're going to stomp in all these states ... we're on a good roll and we need to keep it up and lock up the nomination as soon as we can."
The Dean campaign said nothing is make-or-break and they will continue to raise money from the Internet and "keep going and going and going, just like the Energizer bunny," Dean told supporters Tuesday.
Dean is "getting back on track" and is expecting big wins this weekend, as well as a "showdown" in Wisconsin, campaign CEO Roy Neel told Fox News.
"We've retooled our organization, our candidate is out there, he's working hard, he's doing well," Neel said. "We're taking this thing right down to the time when somebody has the majority of the delegates and it is far from over … the dynamics of this race change after every vote."
Fox News' Carl Cameron, Major Garrett, Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.