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Kerry wins Nevada, D.C. caucuses

Democratic presidential hopefuls look ahead to Wisconsin

Sen. John Kerry speaks during the Wisconsin Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Milwaukee on Saturday.
Sen. John Kerry speaks during the Wisconsin Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Milwaukee on Saturday.

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(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won the caucuses in Nevada and the District of Columbia on Saturday, widening his strong lead over his Democratic rivals.

Kerry has won 14 of 16 Democratic contests held so far to choose a presidential nominee.

According to results of the balloting released by the Nevada Democratic Party, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kerry claimed 63 percent of the local delegates selected. Kerry's tally was more than three times that of his closest competitor.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean got 17 percent of the delegates; Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina 10 percent; Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio 7 percent; and the Rev. Al Sharpton 1 percent.

Nevada had 24 delegates at stake. The county-level delegates picked in Saturday's caucuses will select the national delegates at a state convention.

Nevada, the fastest-growing in the union, could be an important swing state in the fall. President Bush carried it by less than 4 percentage points in 2000.

Nevada is also a test of each party's appeal to Latino voters, who make up nearly 20 percent of the electorate there.

Sixteen delegates were up for grabs in the Democratic stronghold of Washington, D.C. Kerry claimed more than double the number of votes of the second-place finisher, New York civil rights activist Sharpton.

Kerry got 47 percent of the vote, and Sharpton 20 percent. Dean was close behind with 18 percent, followed by Edwards with 10 percent and Kucinich with 3 percent.

This was Washington, D.C.'s second presidential contest this year. The district held a nonbinding primary January 13, which Dean won. Sharpton placed second in that race, too.

Despite Saturday's contests in D.C. and Nevada, the candidates' time and attention were more focused on the Wisconsin primary showdown Tuesday.

Three of the five candidates left in the race -- Kerry, Edwards and Kucinich -- were in Milwaukee Saturday night to speak to the Wisconsin Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Dean spent the morning campaigning in Wisconsin before returning home to Burlington later in the day.

Kerry accused President Bush of engaging in "attack politics" for releasing an Internet ad Friday that took Kerry to task for accepting contributions from special interests while campaigning against the power of special interests in Washington.

"Instead of attacking America's problems," Kerry said, "George Bush and our opponents have once again turned to attack politics.

"We deserve a president who wants to lift America, not divide America and drag it down to the lowest common denominator."

However, the Kerry campaign plans to release an ad of its own outlining the president's ties to special interests.

The Bush campaign, responding to Kerry's earlier complaints about the ad, issued a statement Saturday charging that Kerry had spent nearly $5 million to put out negative ads in 15 states against the president before the Bush campaign responded.

Kerry also continued to blast the GOP incumbent at the dinner Saturday night, saying, "This administration has ripped the heart out of the heartland."

"George Bush is trying to defend the indefensible: his own record," Kerry said.

"Three million jobs lost; a wholesale giveaway to big oil and the big drug companies. The biggest deficits in history that have been stolen from the biggest surpluses in the history of our country. My friends, that's not a record to run on. That's a record to run from."

Edwards also took aim at Bush during his speech at the dinner. The senator accused the Bush administration of wanting to make tax cuts permanent while praising the outsourcing of American jobs.

"Millions of Americans losing their jobs over the next decade is a good thing?" Edwards asked. "I'll tell you what the solution to this problem is, to outsource this administration."

Kucinich told the Democrats, "We must be the party that brings our troops home, we must be the party that causes us to work with the world community. ... It's time for America to reconnect with the world in a vision of peace."

Dean speaks in Wisconsin

Dean opened his campaign day by attending a prayer breakfast at a black church in Milwaukee, where he was introduced -- but not endorsed -- by Mayor Marvin Pratt and accompanied by two of his former college roommates, who are also black.

"We are going to the White House with the people who brought us to the dance," Dean said, decrying what he said was the Democratic Party's tendency to wait until just before an election to appeal to groups in its base.

After retreating from several primaries, Dean, the former front-runner, decided to make a stand in Wisconsin, hoping to reverse the tide toward Kerry. However, he has backed away from earlier statements that he must win in the Badger State to continue in the race.

At a rally in Racine on Saturday, supporters in the audience offered Dean praise for the "passion" of his campaign and urged him not to drop out.

"I hope you stay with it and stay 'til the end," one of the men said, while the other told Dean that "the mistake maybe you made was running against Bush -- you should've been running against dishonest politicians."

Democrats in Washington, D.C., select a presidential candidate for the second time this year. The district held a nonbinding primary in January.
Democrats in Washington, D.C., select a presidential candidate for the second time this year. The district held a nonbinding primary in January.

Asked again Saturday if he would get out of the race if he loses Tuesday, Dean said, "you'll find out on Wednesday." When asked by a reporter if "for now you will go on," Dean responded, "yeah."

Meanwhile, Edwards picked up endorsements from The Capital Times newspaper in Madison and the city's mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, which could help his prospects in the liberal Democratic bastion where Dean hopes to do well.

The mayor appeared with Edwards and his family at an afternoon rally, where the North Carolina senator told a crowd of 600 supporters, "I am so ready for this fight."

"You must give me a shot at President Bush, and I'll give you back the White House," he said.

He told reporters after the rally that he feels no pressure to drop out of the race, regardless of how he finishes Tuesday, and is prepared to continue through March.

"The process is too fluid," he said.

Polls in Wisconsin, where 72 delegates will be at stake Tuesday, show Kerry far ahead of his rivals.

So far, Kerry has captured 571 delegates; Dean has 190 delegates; Edwards, 166; Sharpton, 16; and Kucinich, 2. To win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, a candidate needs 2,161 delegates. (Delegate scorecard)

The next big test after Wisconsin is March 2, "Super Tuesday," when 10 states choose delegates. (Interactive election calendar)

CNN's Kelly Wallace, Justin Dial, Sasha Johnson and Jamie McShane contributed to this report.

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