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Inside Politics

Clark bows out after Kerry wins in South

Edwards: 'A two-person race now'

Clark waves to supporters before formally announcing the end of his campaign for president Wednesday.
Clark waves to supporters before formally announcing the end of his campaign for president Wednesday.

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CNN's Kelly Wallace on the next Dem battleground: Wisconsin.
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CNN's Dan Lothian on retired Gen. Wesley Clark's exit from the race.
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Democrats back Sen. John Kerry in Tennessee and Virginia.
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Despite finishing second, John Edwards says he's excited about his prospects.
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America Votes 2004
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(CNN) -- Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Wednesday after third-place finishes in two key Southern primaries.

Clark, a former NATO commander and a former CNN military commentator, finished behind Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards in Tuesday's contests, racking up 23 percent support in Tennessee, but just 9 percent in Virginia.

Clark announced his departure just before 3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. He was joined by his family and a room filled with supporters.

"We have decided we are going to end this phase of the journey even more full of hope and even more committed to building a better America," Clark said to applause.

"So this is the end of the campaign for the presidency, and it's not the end of the cause. Because the real cause is a campaign for America's future."

Clark won only one Democratic contest -- the February 3 Oklahoma primary -- and campaign spokesman Matt Bennett told a supporter that skipping the Iowa caucuses to concentrate on the New Hampshire primary now appears to have been a mistake. (Why Clark didn't click)

In an exchange captured by C-SPAN cameras Tuesday night in Memphis, Clark said "everything would have been different" if he had campaigned in Iowa.

In his farewell address, Clark volunteered to continue campaigning for the Democratic Party.

"Folks, this old soldier will not fade away," he said. "No, I'm just going to change my uniform and get out in the field and work. I'll be out in front. I'll be working the issues. I'll be supporting the candidates. I'll be doing all I can to contribute to building a new and better America."

"Specifically, Clark will focus on the need to stand up to George W. Bush on national security and take back faith, patriotism and values for the Democratic Party," one of his advisers told CNN.

Clark is willing to stump for Democratic Senate candidates in the South and in swing House districts where his national security background can boost the party, the senior adviser said.

Kerry stayed off the campaign trail Wednesday, spending the day in Washington.

Kerry's strong victories Tuesday cast doubt on arguments by Edwards and Clark that they had more appeal in the South than the senator from Massachusetts.

"Together, across the South, you have shown that mainstream values that we share -- fairness, love of country, a belief in hope and in hard work -- are more important than boundaries or birthplace, and I thank you for that," Kerry told supporters at a victory rally in Fairfax, Virginia. (Transcript)

Kerry won with 52 percent of the vote in Virginia. Edwards got 27 percent and Clark had 9 percent.

In Tennessee, Kerry won with 41 percent of the vote, followed by Edwards with 26 percent and Clark with 23 percent. (Analysis of results)

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio trailed far behind with single digits in both states.

Nearly 90 percent of exit poll respondents in Virginia said they thought Kerry could beat President Bush in the fall.

Among the nearly four in 10 respondents in both states who thought "electability" was more important than a candidate's stance on particular issues, Kerry was the choice by a greater than 3-2 margin. (Full story)

Edwards hoping to attract Clark's supporters

Edwards believes Clark's exit is an opportunity to pick up the general's supporters.

"I think a lot of people who supported Gen. Clark would naturally be interested in me," Edwards told reporters aboard his plane.

"They're interested in a candidate who they know could win some Southern states, which we have to do to win the general election. I'm the only candidate in the race, certainly now, who has any kind of record of being able to win a general election in a Southern state."

Buoyed by his latest second-place finishes, Edwards crisscrossed Wisconsin on Wednesday, asking voters not to turn the Democratic presidential race into a coronation of Kerry.

"You want to see the candidates, hear what they have to say and you're going to make your own independent decision about who to vote for -- am I right about that?" the North Carolina senator asked an audience in Janesville.

Other than two half-day trips to California later in the week, Edwards plans to campaign in Wisconsin until Tuesday's primary.

Edwards began running two previously produced ads in Wisconsin last week.

The campaign estimates it has raised nearly $3 million since the North Carolina senator's surprise second-place finish in Iowa. He went on to win the primary in South Carolina.

Dean: Democrats don't need 'lesser of two evils'

Wisconsin is the next major battleground for the Democratic candidates and Dean has been campaigning there for more than a week.

Dean blasted Kerry Wednesday over reports that a Kerry supporter helped bankroll independent anti-Dean ads, saying Democrats didn't need to run "the lesser of two evils" against Bush.

Dean accused Kerry's backers of supporting "a secret political group" to run attack ads against him, saying, "This is not the kind of campaign Democrats ought to run."

"This is the kind of thing that's gone on in the Republican Party before," said Dean. "It's not yet gone on in the Democratic Party. I'm sorry to see Sen. Kerry introduce those techniques to the Democratic Party."

But a Kerry spokesman called Dean's comments "another Dean act of divisive desperation."

Dean is banking on a win in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary to jump-start his campaign after a string of losses and is trying to associate himself with the state's long history of supporting liberal reform.

He said he will support whoever is the eventual Democratic nominee "under all circumstances" over Bush, whom he said has "harmed America more than any president in my lifetime."

Up for grabs in Wisconsin are 72 delegates. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,161 delegates. (Delegate scorecard)

Kerry is leading with 516, Dean has 182, Edwards has 165, Clark has 102, Sharpton has 12 and Kucinich has two. (Full story)

After Wisconsin, comes "Super Tuesday," when 10 states hold contests March 2. (Interactive election calendar)

CNN's Kelly Wallace, Candy Crowley, Joe Johns, Dan Lothian, Justin Dial, Mike Roselli, Fran Fifis, Laura Bernardini and Sasha Johnson contributed to this report.

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