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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

And then, there were five ... or three ... or two

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Southern sweep: John Kerry won two Southern states on Tuesday, bringing his primary record to 12-2.
Southern sweep: John Kerry won two Southern states on Tuesday, bringing his primary record to 12-2.

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CNN's Kelly Wallace on Sen. John Kerry's latest convincing primary wins.
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CNN's Dan Lothian reports on retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark's decision to end his bid.
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Howard Dean says his supporters want fundamental change.
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Morning Grind

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Kerry has one more thing in common with Michael Dukakis today, but Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie shouldn't get too excited. Kerry yesterday became the only non-Southern Democrat in 36 years, other than Dukakis, to beat a Southern candidate in the South, making it increasingly hard to see how anyone derails his nomination coronation.

Waiting to do just that, of course, is John Edwards. (Caution: This paragraph may contain spin). Southern Democrat. Optimistic and electable. A populist moderate with a common touch. A great baby-kisser, stump-speaker and one helluva looker. And, golly, if he could just get Kerry alone in a ring, he could wrap up this nomination, no sweat.

Edwards comes one step closer to that mano-a-mano matchup today at 3 p.m. ET when his Southern bunk-mate, Wesley Clark, will quit the race at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock. Clark made the decision to withdraw after he was abandoned by must-win veterans and terror-centric voters yesterday in Virginia and Tennessee. Clark took a disappointing third place in both should-be-friendly states, both of which have a history of backing southern Dems.

Clark drops out

In his speech today, a senior adviser told the Grind last night, Clark will "discuss how he will continue to fight on behalf of the Democratic Party. 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."

The adviser said Clark plans to tell party leaders that he'll stump this year for Democratic Senate candidates in Southern states and other swing House districts where he can help because of his credibility on national security and patriotism. Aides note that Clark, a first-time candidate, outlasted a former House minority leader and the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee.

So, what went wrong? Well, Clark has some ideas of his own, and he was offering them up last night in Memphis, about 30 minutes before spokesman Matt Bennett announced his withdrawal on national TV.

For one thing, the general now believes he erred by skipping the Iowa caucuses.

As Clark was leaving the Peabody Hotel ballroom in Memphis where he gave his final campaign speech, C-SPAN taped him shaking hands with supporters, one of whom said the general should have run in Iowa. "Yeah, I wish we had, too," Clark replied. "Everything would have been different if we had."

Another problem: Aides last night also told the Grind that they were caught flat-footed when Kerry came charging out of Iowa instead of Howard Dean, the only guy that the late-blooming candidate had truly prepared to run against. "When we saw Kerry coming at us in New Hampshire instead of Dean, we just panicked," one aide said.

Edwards eyes Wisconsin

We now move on to Wisconsin, where Edwards will do everything he can to nudge Howard Dean off the stage before next Tuesday and frame this race as a simple choice of Kerry vs. Edwards. (We do realize we're snubbing the great state of Nevada, which votes on Saturday. And we apologize. But we live in D.C. We feel your pain.)

"We had a plan, we stuck to it and today, we march on [to] Wisconsin," Edwards spokesman Roger Salazar wrote in a memo under the header, 'And Then, There Were Two.' "For the next week or so, Wisconsin -- the birth place of Harry Houdini, Frank Lloyd Wright and Laverne and Shirley -- is shaping up to look more like the 'Showdown' State than the Badger State. We're getting to the point where voters will make conscious decisions, not momentum based decisions, and John Edwards, the embodiment of 'the politics of what's possible,' is ready."

But Edwards aides are already signaling that Wisconsin is also not a must-win state. During a conference call yesterday, campaign manager Nick Baldick said Edwards is already focusing on the March 2 Super Tuesday states of New York, where they're getting help from Sen. Hillary Clinton's '00 campaign manager, Bill de Blasio, as well as Ohio, Minnesota, Maryland and Georgia. Baldick said they won't decide whether to concentrate on California until they see what happens in Wisconsin.

Southern strategy

It's easy to see why Clark and Edwards expected to do well in Virginia and Tennessee, both of which are historically deferential to Southern candidates. In 1992, Bill Clinton beat Paul Tsongas by 48 percent in Tennessee. Jimmy Carter beat Ted Kennedy by 57 percent in the Volunteer State in 1980.

In fact, from 1968 to 2000, Dukakis was the only non-Southern presidential candidate to beat a Southerner in the South. In 1988, Dukakis beat Al Gore in two Southern primaries: Florida and Texas. Gore won Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. Also that year, Jesse Jackson, who was born and grew up in South Carolina but moved to Chicago after college, won Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.

In 1972, George Wallace won three of three Southern primaries. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won six of six Southern primaries. In 1980, Jimmy Carter won nine of nine Southern primaries. In 1984, no serious Southern candidate was in the race by the time Southern states held primaries. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 12 of 12 Southern primaries. In 1996, Bill Clinton won 10 of 10 Southern primaries.

In 2000, Gore won every single primary and caucus held in every state.

Worth noting here: Dean took just 4 percent in Tennessee, a fourth-place showing, despite the once-enthusiastic endorsement of native son Gore. Does that mean Gore has now lost Tennessee twice?

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