Now that Sen. John Kerry (search) has nearly clinched the Democratic nomination for president, he's plotting his general election strategy to take on President Bush in November.
And part of that game plan is choosing a running mate.
Kerry told reporters in Florida on Wednesday that he expects to announce soon the process by which he will choose the No. 2 person for the Democratic ticket. Senior advisers said it was possible, but not likely, that Kerry would choose a nominee well before the Democratic nominating convention in July in Boston.
Jim Johnson, vice chairman of a merchant bank and former chairman of Fannie Mae, was chosen to head up the selection process. Johnson was also a former staffer to Vice President Walter Mondale.
"Kerry's swift action in beginning this process to select a running mate indicates what type of president the nation can expect: decisive, focused and ready to lead," Johnson said in a statement. "I very much look forward to being part of the team that will bring change to America."
Kerry spent Wednesday in the battleground state of Florida, continuing his usual practice of hammering away at Bush and winning the endorsements of Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.
"I am here to join you to change America for the better," Kerry said.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), who on Tuesday called his campaign the "little engine that could," suspended his campaign Wednesday and threw his support to his Senate colleague, saying, "I intend to do everything in my power to make him the president of the United States."
The Bush-Cheney re-election team unveiled its first television ads Wednesday, a day before they will start running on broadcast channels in media markets in 17 states that are expected to be competitive and nationwide.
Advisers say the ads are meant to show that the country is safer and stronger now because of Bush and to make the case that the Republican's policies have put America on the right path.
"We thought it important to start with a setting the table of where the country's been over the last three years," said Matthew Dowd, the campaign's chief strategist.
On Super Tuesday, Kerry won nine out of the 10 Democratic contests for the presidential nomination, cleaning house in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Minnesota. The only state that Kerry didn't claim was Vermont, which backed Howard Dean, its former governor who suspended his campaign last month.
"The message can now be heard all across our country: Change is coming to America," Kerry, the four-term Massachusetts senator, told supporters during his Super Tuesday victory speech Tuesday night.
A top Kerry confidant told Fox News that Tuesday marked an escalation in Kerry's personal involvement in unifying the party.
Until now, Kerry had left much of the work to his campaign while he focused on the primaries. But now that Super Tuesday has almost sealed his fate, sources said Kerry felt now was the appropriate time to begin to get personally involved in organizing a national campaign against Bush.
The New Englander busily worked the phones in his Senate office Tuesday, calling fund-raisers, organizers, special interest groups and prominent Democrats to mend fences with Democrats formerly supporting other candidates and to solidify his own support.
"Now, it's down to one, essentially, John Kerry, and the challenge for the Democrats is whether they're going to give him a mandate or they're going to give him a free license to take on Bush," independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader (search) told Fox News.
Over the next six days, Bush will star in five events aimed at pulling in cash to help get him re-elected. He'll spend the most time shuttling across California and Texas to meet a heavy fund-raising schedule.
Bush vs. Kerry: Bring It On
Kerry will launch the first wave of a new ad campaign on Thursday, one focused clearly on his criticism of Bush. To help pay for the effort, Fox News has learned that the Democratic National Committee is planning a major multi-million dollar fundraiser to help him at the end of this month.
Money is a distinct problem for the Democrats. Kerry has about $32 million in his coffers while the Bush-Cheney re-election team has a $140 million war chest to work with until the summer party conventions. But Kerry is hoping for an infusion of $17 million from the DNC.
Some of the themes Kerry is expected to use in the campaign were offered in his victory speech Tuesday night.
"We will renew our alliances and we will build new alliances because they are essential to the final victory and success of a war on terror," Kerry told supporters Tuesday night. "The Bush administration has run the most inept, reckless, arrogant and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country."
Vice President Cheney told Fox News in a Tuesday interview that Kerry is vulnerable on national security issues.
"What we're concerned about, what I'm concerned about, is his record in the United States Senate," Cheney said. "He very clearly has over the years adopted a series of positions that indicate a desire to cut the defense budget, cut the intelligence budget, to eliminate many major weapons programs, to vote against, for example, the first Gulf War resolution back in 1991."
Bush called Kerry Tuesday night to congratulate him on "an impressive victory" and for winning the nomination against a tough field. He added that he looked forward to a "spirited race." The Massachusetts senator said he hoped the race stayed focused on the issues.
Who Wants to Be Kerry's Veep?
The big talker now is who Kerry will pick to be his wingman, or wingwoman.
Edwards has repeatedly said he isn't interested in the No. 2 job in the White House but many political observers say a Kerry-Edwards ticket would be an attractive one in November.
"No promises for the vice presidency right now, but I think a good feeling all around," said Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich.
"It looks like Edwards is the one who makes the most sense," added Florida's Graham, who dropped out of the presidential race a few months ago.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — seen as a possible vice presidential candidate on a Democratic ticket — gave Kerry her endorsement.
"This is going to be a year, I believe, for Senator Kerry who will be our nominee and I will do everything I can to get him elected. So I hope that next year we will have a Democrat in the White House," the New York senator and former first lady told Japan's Nippon Television Network Corporation.
Other names being floated around the Beltway are Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark — who also dropped out of the presidential running — and Graham.
Fox News' Carl Cameron, Major Garrett, Amy Sims and The Associated Press contributed to this report.