Kerry's Lead Grows as Dean Recedes

Sen. John Kerry (search) was well positioned to go into the Maine caucuses Sunday, one day after double wins in Michigan and Washington state. Meanwhile, fellow New Englander Howard Dean (search) turned his energy to Wisconsin after another rough day for his campaign. As well, Sen. John Edwards (search) appeared on Fox News Sunday, still optimistic about his chances of pulling ahead of Kerry.   

The Associated Press reported Kerry the victor in Washington, with returns from 97 percent of precincts showing him with 49 percent and Dean with 30 percent, followed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio with 8 percent, Edwards with 7 percent and Clark with 3 percent.

With final returns from Michigan, Kerry had 52 percent, Dean 17 percent, Edwards 14 percent, Sharpton and Clark had 7 percent, and Kucinich managed 3 percent, according to the Associated Press.

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In Richmond Sunday, Kerry accepted the endorsement of Gov. Mark Warner and took issue with Bush for saying in a nationally televised interview that Saddam Hussein had the ability to make deadly weapons.

"This is a far cry from what the president and his administration told the people in 2002," Kerry said, standing outside the governor's mansion after watching Bush's "Meet the Press" interview with Warner.

The Massachusetts senator said Bush was "telling the American people stories back in 2002" about the extent of the threat posed by Saddam. He demanded a full investigation into the gathering of U.S. intelligence and how it was used to justify the administration's decision to invade Iraq.

Kerry said the investigation should be completed quickly and criticized Bush for appointing a panel that will report its findings about the Iraq intelligence after the November election.

A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Kerry also said Bush had not fully answered questions about whether he fulfilled his National Guard service in Alabama during the conflict. "The issue here is, as I have heard it raised, is was he present and active in Alabama at the time he was supposed to be. I don't have the answer to that question and just because you get an honorable discharge does not in fact answer that question," Kerry said.

Meanwhile, appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Sen. John Edwards spoke about the gay marriage debate, saying it was "important for states to be able to identify what constitutes marriage" and that it wasn't "the job of the federal government to make that determination. The federal government should recognize whatever the states determine to be marriage."

Edwards also attacked President Bush on Iraq intelligence, and asserted that he still has a chance to win the Democratic nomination, despite only having won one state so far.

Kerry's Saturday wins boosted his delegate lead over Edwards and the other Democrats. His overall total swelled to 411, with Dean at 175, Edwards at 116, Clark at 82 and Sharpton at 12. It takes 2,162 to win the nomination. Sunday, Maine Democrats take part in caucuses and Kerry looks strong there as well. Maine has 24 delegates at stake.

Recent public opinion surveys also suggest that Kerry has the best chance of defeating Bush, although the president still comes out on top.

A new Fox News poll found that Bush beats Kerry by four percentage points. A month ago, the spread was 22 points — Bush had 54 percent to Kerry's 32 percent.

Good News, Mostly Bad News for Dean

Dean's second-place finishes in Washington and manufacturing-heavy Michigan —the best of his campaign season to date — must have been an acute disappointment to the former front-runner, who early on had secured two of the most highly coveted labor endorsements. But one of those unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, piled on the sting with the withdrawal of its endorsement.

Democratic officials said Gerald McEntee, head of the 1.5 million-strong AFSCME, delivered the news in a meeting in Burlington, Vt.

Like Dean, Edwards and Clark signaled in advance they had scant hopes for success in Michigan in Washington. They aimed their efforts at states still ahead on the campaign calendar.

Sharpton finished a close second to Kerry in caucuses in and around Detroit, qualifying for at least seven convention delegates.

He predicted similar achievements when primaries are held in states with large urban areas, adding, "We can accumulate the delegates we need to go to the end of this campaign, to get 300 to 400 delegates."

Michigan's caucuses permitted voting via the Internet as well as by mail or in person. Ironically, it was the traditional method that produced the biggest controversy of the day. The party kept caucuses in Detroit open two hours later than planned after receiving complaints from supporters of Dean and Edwards that voting sites had been closed or moved.

"I think John Kerry will do the job," said Robert Poli, 81, a retired Boeing worker in Washington. "I think he can beat the hell out of Bush."

Michael Crouch, an organist at a church in East Lansing, said he voted by mail for Kerry. "Kerry has a great military record, a great social consciousness and he has a very presidential manner."

Clark and Edwards pinned their hopes on Tuesday's primaries in Virginia and Tennessee while Dean is making a last stand in Wisconsin, which votes a week later.

In a statement that pointed to his showing in Washington, he said the voters in that state "have sent a clear message that they want this race and this debate to continue. ... We look forward to tomorrow's Maine caucuses and winning Wisconsin on the 17th."

Top Clark aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have told Fox News that if the retired general does not pull off a win or a strong second in Tennessee Tuesday he will likely withdraw from the race.

But fresh polls suggested Kerry's strength was spreading. New surveys showed the Massachusetts senator ahead in all three states.

Kerry has won seven of nine primaries and caucuses held to date, losing only South Carolina to Edwards and Oklahoma to Clark last week.

He looked to Virginia and Tennessee on Tuesday to show his ability to win Southern primaries — and spent part of his day vowing to contest Bush in the region as well.

"This administration is busy trying to paint everybody else as out of touch, out of synch, somehow out of the mainstream," he said in Nashville. "But let me tell you something, I'm not worried about coming down South and talking to people about jobs, schools, health care and the environment.

"I think it's the president who ought to worry about coming down here."

Kerry also won the support of Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who will endorse him on Sunday, according to a Virginia party official. Warner presided over a party dinner Saturday night attended by several of the candidates.

Kerry had suggested earlier in the campaign that the party's nominee could win the White House without winning any electoral votes in the region, and he has been emphasizing its importance ever since.

Kerry's rivals soldiered on.

Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, made it sound like additional defeats — even in Virginia, Tennessee and on Feb. 17 in Wisconsin — would not deter him.

"This is very much for me a long-term process. It's a war of attrition," he told reporters while campaigning at the University of Memphis. "I'm in it until I'm the nominee."

Clark worked his way through Virginia. He told reporters that — despite his own words to the contrary — Clinton administration officials had never pressured him to end the Kosovo war in the summer of 1999 to avoid harming Al Gore's presidential campaign.

Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.