MIDDLETON, Wis. – Despite winning a squeaker in Wisconsin Tuesday night, John Kerry (search) said he was confident he would be the Democratic nominee for president and publicly ignored the chase from rival John Edwards (search).
"We're going to win the nomination," Kerry said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm elated."
Speaking to supporters after his win, Kerry spoke as a champion without acknowledging the narrow margin of victory. He contrasted himself with President Bush (search) and didn't mention Edwards or his other Democratic rivals.
"I want to thank the state of Wisconsin for moving this cause and this campaign forward tonight," Kerry said.
Advisers said Kerry is the only candidate running a national race and racking up the delegates needed to win the nomination.
"We play everywhere, unlike John Edwards and Howard Dean (search) and anyone else in the race," said Steve Elmendorf, Kerry's deputy campaign manager. "The problem these other candidates have is they are not competing in a serious way to get enough delegates to get the nomination."
Kerry had a commanding lead in polls of Wisconsin voters, but Edwards narrowed the gap to make it a nail-biter.
"I said I never trust the polls," Kerry told the AP. "I said I'd fight for every vote."
Most of Kerry's supporters had been with him for more than a week — six in 10, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Conversely, Edwards' voters decided late — three-quarters in the last week and half in the last three days.
Edwards got good reviews for a Sunday night debate performance, when he warned Kerry that the race isn't over yet. He also picked up two Wisconsin newspaper endorsements and outspent Kerry by about 40 percent on advertising in the state.
Meanwhile, Kerry ignored Edwards and his other Democratic rivals in recent days, focusing on Bush with all the confidence that he would be in the nominee. The Bush campaign struck back, posting a video on the Internet that cast Kerry as a tool of the special interests he regularly denounces.
"We underwent a lot of Republican attacks the last week," Kerry said in the AP interview. "Notwithstanding those attacks we showed we can fight back."
Rumors that Kerry had had an affair — he flatly denied them — circulated on the Internet and became the focus on late-night television comedy.
While Kerry campaigned for Nevada's caucuses on Saturday, Edwards and Howard Dean were camped in the state. Edwards criticized Kerry's support for free trade agreements in the state, which has lost more than 70,000 jobs in the past three years.
Edwards and Kerry tied among voters who said trade with other countries takes away jobs in their state, with both getting slightly more than one-third of the voters who felt that way, according to exit polls.
Kerry led Edwards among those who picked health care and the war in Iraq as the most important issues. He trailed among those who picked the economy and jobs.
Edwards led among independents by more than 10 points, and especially among the more than one in 10 voters who were Republicans — more than 10 points, while Kerry led by almost 20 points among Democrats.