John Kerry (search) continued his winning streak on Tuesday, taking first prize in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries and showing that a New Englander can win in Dixie.
John Edwards (search), who wanted to prove his Southern roots would propel him to the top, came in second. And after a disappointing third-place showing in both states, Wesley Clark's (search) campaign announced that the retired general would quit the race. Clark will make the formal announcement in Little Rock, Ark., on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry had 52 percent of the Virginia vote, Edwards had 27 percent, Clark finished with 9 percent and Howard Dean (search) had 7 percent. The Rev. Al Sharpton (search) got 3 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) of Ohio earned 1 percent.
In Tennessee, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kerry had 41 percent, Edwards 26 percent, Clark 23 percent, Dean 4 percent, Sharpton 2 percent and Kucinich 1 percent.
"Once again, the message rings out loud and clear. Americans are voting for change — East, West, North — and today in the South," Kerry said after taking the stage at George Mason University in Virginia to the songs "Beautiful Day" by the band U2 and "Simply the Best" by Tina Turner. "Thank you, Tennessee; thank you, Virginia."
"America is coming together and together, we will move America forward," the Vietnam veteran continued. "Now our campaign moves forward. We will fight for every vote and carry our cause all across this land."
Kerry's victories Tuesday gave him a primary/caucuses win record of 12-2. Edwards won South Carolina last week and Clark, a retired four-star Army general, won Oklahoma.
"This is a very special night," former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (search), a Kerry supporter and Vietnam veteran, told Fox News. "I think John Kerry proves he's an all-American candidate for all of America."
Virginia has 82 pledged delegates while Tennessee offered 69. Kerry now has 507 delegates to Dean's 182, with Edwards at 163 and Clark at 96. A total of 2,162 are needed to clinch the nominatation.
Kerry, often labeled a Massachusetts liberal by GOP foes, called his Southern wins an example of his cross-country appeal.
"What we showed today is the mainstream values that I've been talking about — fairness and hope and hard work and love of country — are more important than boundaries and birthplace," Kerry said.
Kerry planned to go to his home in Washington, D.C., to rest for a few days and work the phones before Saturday's primary in Nevada and next Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin.
"I'm on to Wisconsin," he said. "I think the campaign moves forward, and I'm going to continue to fight for every vote."
End of the Road?
Edwards and Clark were counting on their Southern roots to pull them through Tuesday's races. A win for either of them may have been enough to keep their campaigns at least on life support through the next wave of elections.
"We're going to have an election, not a coronation," Edwards told cheering supporters in Milwaukee Tuesday night.
"We may have lost this battle today but I tell you what, we're not going to lose the battle for America's future," Clark told his own supporters before word got out that he would quit. "Our goal remains the same — to change the direction of this country and to bring a higher standard of leadership to the White House."
But after Tuesday's disappointing results, Clark aides, who have not been paid for more than a week, said they were packing their bags and going home on Wednesday.
Sources told Fox News that Clark lacks the cash to advertise aggressively in Wisconsin, and that if he campaigned hard there he would have no money to compete.
Several senior staffers also said they simply couldn't afford to travel the country without pay for a candidate who has little hope of winning the nomination.
Clark called Kerry after the front-runner's wins Tuesday and had a four-minute conversation where the senator repeatedly thanked his competitor for kind words of support and congratulations.
After the announcement of Clark's departure, Kerry put out a statement congratulating Clark on his effort.
"General Clark ran a campaign that he and his family should be proud of. He reminded Democrats of the importance of national security as we face a wartime president who has run a reckless foreign policy,” he said.
Almost immediately after Clark's announcement, the Kerry and Edwards campaigns frantically began calling Clark supporters, organizers and donors to try to transfer any support they could to their campaigns.
Sources close to the Edwards campaign said the candidate believes that Clark's support is not inherently going to move to Kerry, whom Clark supporters dislike. The Edwards camp said the North Carolina senator thinks he can co-opt Clark's supporters and plans to court them openly on the campaign trail, calling them by name and asking them to join his team.
Edwards needs to win as many supporters from Clark and Dean as possible before Wisconsin. The team has suggested that the candidate knows he will lose Wisconsin, but is looking for a strong second-place showing, within a 5- to 7-point range so they can keep fighting. A blow-out 15-25 point margin would end the race for Edwards, sources said.
What Voters Want
According to Fox News exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International, when it came to the Democrats' most important issue — who can beat Bush — Kerry was the favorite by a landslide. Health care and the war in Iraq were second-tier concerns after the electability issue, according to polls.
"Anybody but Bush," said Charles Edwards, 50, of Falls Church, Va., who decided to vote for Kerry as he stepped into the voting booth. "I'd vote for the devil."
Economy and jobs were big issues in both states. Kerry's support was especially strong among black voters, who make up one-third of the Virginia electorate. Edwards gave Kerry the strongest competition among white voters, getting almost one-third of that group to Kerry's half of that group, according to the polls.
Among Tennessee voters who opposed the Iraq war, Kerry showed a clear advantage over his rivals. Half of the voters said they made up their mind about whom to support only within the last week.
Retired nurse Bob Casey, a 68-year-old independent from Memphis, Tenn., said he voted for Clark — but would vote for Bush in the general election before voting for Kerry. "I don't need any more of those liberals from back East," Casey said.
Almost six in 10 Democratic voters went for Kerry; he got just over four in 10 independent voters, compared with a third for Edwards. The New England senator also received much backing from groups with lower incomes and less education.
Clark showed more strength among Old Dominion voters who said national security and the war in Iraq were most important. Dean fared somewhat better among voters who said it was most important to have a candidate who stands up for what he believes.
Kerry's Tuesday sweep may have just helped him rake in the mother of all labor endorsements.
On Wednesday, the Alliance for Economic Justice — an umbrella group of 21 international labor unions, including the Teamsters, United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers of America — will conduct a private conference call of its executive boards and unanimously vote to endorse Kerry.
The alliance had previously endorsed Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt before he dropped out of the presidential race.
Representatives of the alliance recently told Foxnews.com that they would only endorse someone if that candidate had many of the same labor stances as Gephardt. The formal endorsement will happen on the eve of the Wisconsin primary.
Kerry earlier had also gained endorsements from Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl and Reps. Ron Kind and David Obey.
Before the polls closed, members of the Edwards camp said their boss had enough money to compete through the end of the month. Staff had been dispatched to delegate-rich states New York and California, which hold primaries with eight other states on March 2.
Meanwhile, pre-Iowa front-runner Dean — who basically forfeited Tuesday's races — continued to focus his efforts on Wisconsin.
In an about-face, the former Vermont governor also said he intends to stay in the race regardless of the outcome in the Feb. 17 primary in Wisconsin.
"I've just changed my mind," he told reporters, backing off his earlier statement that Wisconsin would be his last stand. Only, however, after it helped him raise more than $1.2 million.
Fox News' Peter Brownfeld, Carl Cameron, Molly Henneberg, Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.