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Carville: Kerry needs big win to solidify position

"Crossfire" co-host James Carville

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
On the Scene
James Carville
New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- New Hampshire voters are braving frigid temperatures Tuesday to cast the first ballots in a 2004 presidential primary.

Political analyst and "Crossfire" co-host James Carville discussed the importance of the small state in selecting the Democratic nominee Tuesday with CNN's Bill Hemmer.

CARVILLE: I've been talking to these campaigns. I spent a lot of time with the [John] Edwards people last night. One of the key numbers we want to look for tonight is 35 [percent]. The further [John] Kerry falls below 35 [percent], I think the worse news it is for him. The more he rises above 35 [percent], the better the news is for him.

It's important for Edwards not to lose contact; he can run third, but he can't loose contact with Dean. He has to stay close enough. ...

Dean's got to come close. If he takes another drubbing here, it's not going to be good for him at all because at some point somebody else [besides Kerry] has got to start winning some primaries.

We tend to focus on what's happened behind the front-runner, and that's fine, but come next Tuesday we are going to start counting delegates, and somebody other than Kerry's got to win some primaries, and the road to winning primaries next Tuesday is to do well in New Hampshire tonight. So this is a big event.

HEMMER: Is it your sense there is the same amount of excitement that we saw in Iowa or not?

CARVILLE: There's a ton of excitement here seeing these campaigns. I'm going out today; I'm going to get a car and ride to the precincts. To me, this is the most fine thing you can have in presidential politics. I think the turnout is going to be enormously high. I think the voters are excited about this. I know the kids in the campaign are excited. I can see in these candidates' faces they are nervous but excited.

This thing is going to be an exciting day and an exciting night, and there's going to be real consequences to determine who the Democratic nominee is.

The weather reports of late snow could have -- cold will not affect the turnout -- heavy snow could affect the turnout, particularly among the elderly. Some people may not go out if the snow is going to be really, really heavy. But these people live in cold weather. They are going to be completely unaffected by that. We just have to see what happens in terms of the snow.

HEMMER: Do you think if Kerry doesn't win big, is that a disappointment?

CARVILLE: If John Kerry doesn't win big, it gives new life into Howard Dean's campaign, which didn't have a whole lot of life on Wednesday.

... I think that if you look at that critical 35 number, if -- it all has to add up to 100, if Kerry gets 35 [percent] or better, he's going to win by a decent amount. You know, here you hear a lot of talk tonight about "We will pick this state and run in it. Pick that state and run in that."

The truth is you are running for the presidency of the United States, you have to compete all across this country. I hope these guys -- you know you have resource allocation -- you can only make so many visits to seven states, but in the end, I suspect we will produce a nominee pretty soon in this process.

HEMMER: How many will drop out tomorrow?

CARVILLE: I think of the big five, two will be gone tomorrow. Whether they drop out -- whether you drop out or not doesn't matter -- but if two people finish far behind here, it's going to be pretty hard for them to raise money; it's going to be hard for their supporters to stay with them.

And there's a great sense among everyday rank-and-file Democrats, "Hey, if somebody does really well here, let's get, all get behind them and make this person nominee." And by the same token, these guys have been working hard -- Sen. Edwards and Dean -- you can't force people out of this thing too early, but somebody has to show ability to get votes in order to stay in this thing. You can't just stay in this thing forever.

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