Democrats Begin to Unite

Published March 03, 2004

| FoxNews.com

After landing the final knockout punch Tuesday night to end the ambitions of John Edwards (search), his last serious rival in the Democratic presidential race, John Kerry (search) is now working to heal any bruises as the party preps for the general election.

Edwards, who came out with zero wins out of 10 on Super Tuesday (search), was headed back to his home in Raleigh, N.C., where on Wednesday he is expected to announce his withdrawal from the race.

Even before the concession, in which he is expected to praise Kerry, Edwards had run a relatively polite race. On Tuesday, the two traded compliments instead of barbs as they indicated that it's time to heal any divisions in the party.

"I want to take a moment and congratulate my friend, Senator John Kerry. He's run a strong, powerful campaign. He's been an extra advocate for causes that all of us believe in, more jobs, better health care, a cleaner environment, a safer world. These are the causes of our party. These are the causes of our country, and these are the causes we will prevail on come November," Edwards told cheering supporters in Atlanta.

Watching from Kerry headquarters in Washington, D.C., Kerry, his wife and staffers applauded Edwards' statement and Kerry publicly lauded the North Carolina senator minutes later when he spoke to supporters.

"We heard a remarkably gracious, powerful, generous statement from John Edwards tonight. There is no question that John Edwards brings a compelling voice to our party, great eloquence and great promise for leadership for years to come," Kerry said.

The two also spoke directly with one another when Edwards called Kerry to congratulate him on his nearly clean sweep. They shared memories of campaigning last summer and talked about their equal respect for each other.

Kerry press secretary David Wade said the two agreed that the campaign should continue to focus on Bush and casting Kerry as the alternative who can defeat the president in November.

When he goes on the road in preparation for contests in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida next week -- in which his remaining rivals will be Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (search) -- Kerry also is expected to discuss the contributions and fresh voices that Edwards and Howard Dean brought to the campaign.

In an unusual twist, Dean, who dropped out almost two weeks ago after a dismal Wisconsin primary, picked up his first primary win on Tuesday night in his home state of Vermont.

He responded in a statement that he looks "forward to continuing the energy and the campaign for change that our movement began" and said he will announce more details of that effort on March 18.

Back in Washington, Kerry reached out to Dean supporters, congratulating the former Vermont governor and lauding his accomplishments in the party.

"Let me also congratulate Howard Dean. Today, we are all reminded of the unprecedented contribution he has made to our party and to our country by bringing so many disenfranchised into our party and our political process, and I know he will continue to do that," Kerry said.

After Edwards' expected endorsement of the Democratic front-runner on Wednesday, Kerry is expected to reach out to Edwards' supporters as he builds up his war chest to go head-to-head against President Bush.

On Tuesday, Kerry was already busily working the phones and completely focused on "the next phase," sources told Fox News. The Massachusetts senator called fund-raisers, organizers, special-interest groups and prominent Democrats across the country to smooth any feathers that may have been ruffled from the primary tussles.

"John Edwards has raised a lot of money, so the first thing he will do is reach out to his donors and say: 'Time to help John Kerry,' and that will set the example for Howard Dean (search) to reach out to his folks and say, 'Time to help John Kerry,'" said Susan Estrich, Fox News political analyst and Democratic strategist.

"I've never seen the Democratic Party more united," Estrich said.

Tuesday's phone calls marked an escalation in Kerry's personal involvement in unifying the party, said a top Kerry confidant. Before Tuesday, Kerry left much of the work to his campaign while he focused on the Democratic primaries. The source said that Kerry felt that personally getting involved in the daily phone calls any earlier than Tuesday would have appeared presumptuous.

Instead, Kerry has spent the last several weeks on the primary trail directing his ammunition at Bush. Bush, who recognized that Super Tuesday's results pretty much sealed Kerry's role as his opponent in the general election, phoned Kerry Tuesday night to congratulate him on his win and discuss the upcoming battle.

Bush campaign officials said the president complimented Kerry on an impressive victory and said he had emerged from a tough field to win the nomination. The president then said he was looking forward to a spirited race. Thanking Bush, Kerry said he hoped they could keep the race on the issues.

But Kerry is still likely to face a firestorm from the GOP.

"George Bush is about to savage Kerry with paid media. In eight weeks this is going to be a totally different election," said former Clinton adviser Dick Morris.

Added Bush-Cheney campaign press secretary Terry Holt, "After millions of dollars of Democratic spending, it'll be time to set the record straight a little bit."

Although analysts have tirelessly pondered a Kerry-Edwards ticket, Estrich said, there will be "no promises for vice presidency right now but I think [there are] good feelings all around."

Fox News' Carl Cameron and Major Garrett contributed to this report.

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