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Inside Politics

Democrats battle for Tennessee, Virginia

Dean insists he won't drop out if he loses in Wisconsin

Democrats, from top left, John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich.
Democrats, from top left, John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich.

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CNN's Kelly Wallace on polls showing John Kerry with large leads in Tennessee and Virginia.
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CNN's Candy Crowley on Sen. John Edwards' hopes for strong showings Tuesday.
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Kerry sharpens his attacks on the Bush administration.
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The GOP may target Kerry as a 'Massachusetts liberal.'
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Tuesday, February 10: Tennessee and Virginia primaries

Tuesday, February 17:
Wisconsin primary

When is your primary? For more key dates in the 2004 election season, see our special America Votes 2004 Election Calendar
Presidential primaries
Democratic candidates
John F. Kerry
America Votes 2004\s Presidential Race

UNION CITY, Tennessee (CNN) -- Retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards slugged it out Monday in a final day of campaigning before primaries in Tennessee and Virginia, critical states in the Democratic presidential showdown.

Both claiming home field advantage in the South, Edwards of North Carolina and Clark of Arkansas have staked their candidacies on strong showings in Tuesday's contests.

"The South is not George Bush's back yard. It is my back yard, and I will beat George Bush in my back yard," Edwards told supporters in Norfolk, Virginia.

Clark, who grew up in Arkansas, told a rally in Memphis, Tennessee, "If you put me on third base, I'll take it home."

Kerry is counting on momentum to carry him past the two Southerners. Victories in both states would further solidify his position as the Democratic front-runner, and polls show the senator from Massachusetts leading in both states.

He has 10 victories after nominating contests in 12 states -- the latest being Sunday's caucuses in Maine, and Saturday's caucuses in Washington and Michigan.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was a distant second in the weekend contests, is not competing in Tuesday's primaries.

He is pinning his hopes for revival on a victory February 17 in Wisconsin's primary and campaigned hard in the state Monday. The next large contest after that is "Super Tuesday," when 11 states hold contests March 2. (Interactive election calendar)

"The media claims that this contest is already over. They say that Wisconsin's voice doesn't count, that your vote doesn't count. They expect you to rubber stamp everybody else's choice," Dean told a rally in Madison. "You don't have to listen to them.

Last week, Dean told supporters in an e-mail that he would drop out if he did not win in Wisconsin. (Full story)

But on Monday he said the primary "is not going to be the end of the line" and answered "no" when asked if he would drop out if he failed to carry the state.

Dean conceded that his position had changed.

"I've just been convinced that we're not going to drop out. There's too many people who've come up to me and said, 'Whatever you do, don't drop out,'" he said in a local television interview. "I don't know what's going to happen in Wisconsin, but we're going to find a way to stay in."

A recent American Research Poll in Wisconsin showed Kerry with 41 percent of respondents' support, Clark with 15 percent, Edwards with 10 percent and Dean with 9 percent.

A new nationwide CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken over the weekend, showed that Kerry was the choice of 52 percent of registered Democratic voters, compared with 14 percent for Dean, 13 percent for Edwards and 10 percent for Clark. (Full story)

Numerous polls have shown Democratic voters say they want a candidate who can unseat President Bush above all else.

This one showed Bush drawing 49 percent to Kerry's 48 percent in a hypothetical matchup, well within the poll's margin of error or plus or minus 4 percentage points. A week ago, Kerry had a 7-point advantage on that question.

In other hypothetical matchups, Bush had 50 percent to Edwards' 46 percent, and 51 percent to Clark's 46 percent. The president held his biggest advantage over Dean, 53 percent to 43 percent.

Edwards has long argued that he is the candidate Southern voters would chose in a matchup against Bush.

Kerry victories in Tennessee and Virginia could help prove the New Englander is also electable in the South.

Both Clark and Edwards have been trying to play down expectations of outright victory, though they are jockeying for the second-place spots in the two states.

"What we have been preparing for the entire time is a nomination process that's going to go well into March," Edwards told reporters in Norfolk. "We're prepared for that. We have the resources to do that."

At a campaign stop in Union City, Tennessee, Clark contrasted himself with Edwards, a former trial lawyer, and Kerry, who has been a senator since 1985.

"You got some choices in this race. You got a great lawyer. He's a wonderful man. He's a great lawyer. You got a man who spent his life in the Senate. He's a wonderful legislator," Clark said.

"Or you got somebody like me, who spent his life out there, rolling up his sleeves, working with people, building teams, being held accountable and making it happen. So that's the choice the people of Tennessee face."

Kerry also campaigned Monday in Virginia and Tennessee, aiming virtually all his fire at Bush, not his rivals, including a response to a new White House report predicting 2.6 million jobs will be created this year

"I've got a feeling this report was prepared by the same people who brought us the intelligence on Iraq, because this president has the worst jobs record of the last 11 presidents combined," Kerry told supporters in Roanoke, Virginia.

Since Bush took office, 2.2 million jobs have been lost.

Kerry scored more endorsements Monday, getting the nod from two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, and from the 180,000 member Amalgamated Transit Union.

The endorsements, however, may pale in comparison with the prominence accorded Sunday night during the Grammy Awards. In accepting the award for record of the year for the song "Clocks," Coldplay singer Chris Martin partially dedicated the honor to Kerry.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and the Rev. Al Sharpton, still in the race despite anemic showings in most states, planned to campaign Monday in Virginia as well.

After Maine's caucuses, Kerry had captured 432 delegates, compared with 181 for Dean, 117 for Edwards, 84 for Clark, 12 for Sharpton and two for Kucinich. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,161 delegates. (Delegate scorecard)

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