WASHINGTON – After winning the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday night in a closer-than-expected victory, John Kerry (search) is planning on campaigning in all of the March 2 Super Tuesday states. But he won't be alone on the trail.
John Edwards (search), buoyed by his very strong second-place finish, said he is looking forward to tangling with Kerry one-on-one, though aides say he is unlikely to go to all the upcoming battlegrounds.
After a dismal showing, where he finished 22 points behind Kerry and 17 points behind Edwards, Howard Dean (search) seemed poised to exit the race. Dean campaign sources told Fox News that their boss has scheduled a 1 p.m. EST event in Vermont Wednesday, where it's expected the former Vermont governor will formally end his candidacy for president.
He's expected to continue his grassroots campaign, however, in the form of a political action committee and legal entities that can raise money.
Ten states will open the polls on Super Tuesday, named for the large delegate prize. Voters in Georgia, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and California will supply 1,151 pledged delegates. The candidates need 2,161 delegates to win the nomination.
On Wednesday, Kerry will head for Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, where he will hold events with union workers. On Thursday, he will receive the backing of the AFL-CIO.
But as the front-runner barrels ahead, the surprise results Tuesday night momentarily forced Kerry to take stock. Late-breakers — undecided voters who chose a candidate within the last 48 hours — gave Edwards a big boost in Wisconsin. Many analysts attributed Edwards' late surge to his performance in a debate Sunday night in which he put Kerry on notice that the race is not over yet.
During the day on Tuesday, as the Kerry camp realized the race would be closer than it had expected, the Massachusetts senator stumped harder and sniped at Edwards, who was nipping at his heels. He called himself the only "national" candidate and criticized Edwards for a "cherry-picking" strategy of choosing states where Edwards thought he could be most competitive.
On Tuesday night, however, Kerry chose to ignore the narrow margin of victory as well as his other Democratic rivals. Instead, the Massachusetts senator focused his victory speech on defeating Bush and winning America back from the wealthy and privileged. His remarks followed a recent attack by the Bush campaign, in which it accused Kerry of being a tool of the special interests the four-term senator says he wants to stop.
But in the short-term, Edwards is shaping up to be Kerry's prime rival. The North Carolina senator is planning the next steps in his campaign, including a fundraiser in New York City on Thursday. In the following days, Edwards is planning to campaign in New York, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and elsewhere, his aides said.
"We think we're going to be gaining strength and doing well in all of those states," said Ed Turlington, general chairman of the Edwards campaign.
"We'll go full-throttle to the next group of states," Edwards said.
"I'm in this fight to win, I'm going to go after it any way I know how," Edwards told Fox News, adding that he is running a national campaign despite Kerry's charges of cherry-picking.
Edwards said his message will resonate in Ohio and upstate New York, areas hard hit by job losses. Edwards' strategists added that he will also compete aggressively in Georgia, a Southern state where Edwards expects to do well, and will make additional efforts in Minnesota and Maryland.
In California, Edwards is not expected to run television ads. Fox News analyst Susan Estrich said it would be difficult for Edwards to run ads in California because the cost of television time in that state is prohibitive.
"The good news for Edwards is that no one has enough money to compete everywhere," Estrich said.
Fox News political analyst Bill Kristol said Edwards will now have to rely on free media, something that a strong showing in Wisconsin will help provide since Edwards unexpectedly surged there.
Edwards is also hoping to capitalize on debate forums, where he can go head-to-head with Kerry.
"I would very much like to see a one-on-one debate with Senator Kerry," he told Fox News. On Tuesday night, the Kerry campaign shied away from any challenges for a one-on-one matchup.
Edwards' campaign has consistently grown stronger in the days and hours before polls closed. His campaign hoped that the candidate could build on this late support.
"When people learn who John Edwards is in the final days, there is a surge of support for him," said Turlington. "Our experience has been the more people know him, the more people he attracts."
A close finish behind Kerry may also give the campaign a needed boost in raising money, pitching him as the Kerry alternative. Edwards said money will not be a problem in the days ahead.
Since the Iowa caucuses, Edwards has raised about $4 million, mostly in small Internet donations. Because Edwards has not opted out of the public finance system, he is eligible for taxpayer matching funds. Federal matching-fund checks usually come out on the first of the month, meaning Edwards could get a big infusion of cash on the eve of Super Tuesday. If necessary, the campaign will borrow against the federal match to spend in the next two weeks, aides said.
On Tuesday, the Burlington Free Press (search), a Vermont newspaper, editorialized that if Dean lost Wisconsin, "Dean is best advised to put the lid on his presidential effort. For pride alone, Dean does not want to be perceived as a vanity candidate, a punch-drunk fighter seeking one more round to prove himself the champion. Right now, Dean is walking the fine line between respect and ridicule."
Dean had told supporters by e-mail that a Wisconsin defeat would force him from the race. After raising thousands of dollars through that plea, the career physician abruptly changed his mind and said he would continue regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin.
But senior advisers to the former Vermont governor urged Dean to cede the nomination and shift his attention to building a political network that helps elect Democrats to Congress.
Speaking to supporters after his weak showing on Tuesday, Dean did not indicate that he planned to drop out of the race. But his message did suggest that he is now looking to be the conscience of the Democratic Party rather than its leader.
"Some of you are disappointed because we didn't do as well as we had hoped we would do in Wisconsin. But I also want you to think for a moment about how far we have come," he said. "There's enormous institutional pressure in this country against change. There's enormous institutional pressure in Washington against change, in the Democratic Party against change. And you have already started to change the Democratic Party. And we will not stop."
Dean often campaigned like a man who knew the end was near. He lapsed into the past tense when talking about his campaign and pulled his punches against Kerry.
Although Kerry has won 15 of 17 primaries and is racking up big delegate counts, experts say a challenger still has reason to remain in the race — to keep the front-runner on his toes and to give people an alternative.
"There'll be a little bit of buyer's remorse about Kerry. There always is, usually, at this point in the primary season. People take a second look at the sort of number two candidate. Edwards is an awfully good candidate. I think there'll be a certain amount of wondering whether Edwards is not a stronger candidate against Bush than Kerry," Kristol said.
While the candidates and political observers look ahead to the March 2 contest, three states — Hawaii, Idaho and Utah — will hold delegate contests on Feb. 24, with 61 pledged delegates at stake.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and the Associated Press contributed to this report.