Sen. John Kerry (search) tightened his grip on the Democratic nomination for president Saturday, trouncing the competition with caucus wins in Michigan and Washington state.
Returns from 97 percent of Washington's precincts showed Kerry with 49 percent of the vote and Dean in second place with 30 percent. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) of Ohio had 8 percent; Sen. John Edwards (search) had 7 percent and retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search) had 3 percent.
Final returns from Michigan showed Kerry with 52 percent, Dean with 17 percent, Edwards with 14 percent, Sharpton and Clark with 7 percent, and Kucinich with 3 percent.
On the campaign trail Saturday, Kerry looked ahead to November, ignoring his Democratic rivals and focusing instead on the Republican in the White House. "George Bush's days are numbered — and change is coming to America," Kerry said.
The candidate also sent a message that he was ready to face the challenges the White House was sure to mount.
"This week George Bush and the Republican smear machine have trotted out the same old tired lines of attack that they've used before to divide this nation and to evade the real issues before us," the Massachusetts senator said in remarks prepared for a Democratic Party dinner in Richmond, Va.
"They're extreme, we're mainstream and we're going to stand up and fight back," he said. Aides said the speech was designed to reassure Democrats he would fight far harder against GOP attacks than Michael Dukakis (search), the former Massachusetts governor who lost the presidential race in 1988.
Kerry's Saturday wins boosted his delegate lead over his rivals. 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.
On 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, Bad News for Dean
Former front-runner Dean enjoyed the best results of his campaign season with twin second-place finishes. But the former Vermont governor also suffered a major setback when the head of a major union withdrew his endorsement.
Democratic officials said Gerald McEntee, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 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.