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Woman denies Kerry affair rumors

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Kerry, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dean (left to right) at a Wisconsin debate

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America Votes 2004
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LACROSSE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- A young woman who has been the subject of Internet and talk show radio gossip about an alleged affair with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry came forward Monday to deny it.

Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, categorically denied rumors of an affair Friday.

In a statement issued to The Associated Press, her former employer, the woman said: "I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false.

Whoever is spreading these rumors and allegations does not know me, but should know the pain they have caused me and my family. I am in Kenya with my fiance visiting his family, and we ask that the press respect our privacy and leave all of us alone.

She added: "It seems that efforts to peddle these lies continue, so I feel compelled to address them."

The woman's parents also issued a statement, echoing their daughter's comment and added:

"We appreciate the way Senator Kerry has handled the situation, and intend on voting for him for president of the United States."

In another development ahead of Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, the floundering campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean faced new disarray after his campaign chairman departed.

Speaking to reporters after a rally in La Crosse on Monday, Dean confirmed that Steve Grossman had left the campaign.

Grossman left after saying publicly that he would jump ship if Dean doesn't win in Wisconsin. Dean refused to discuss what happened between the two, although he said he doesn't "feel betrayed" by Grossman.

Grossman told The New York Times on Sunday that if Dean lost the Wisconsin primary, "I will reach out to John Kerry unless he reaches out to me first."

Grossman was co-chairman of Kerry's 1996 Senate re-election effort and has known him 34 years. His departure followed last month's departure of Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi.

Kerry headed into the Wisconsin primary with a lead in the polls and 14 victories in 16 state nominating contests. His two latest wins came Saturday in caucuses in Nevada and Washington, D.C. (Full story)

Sen. John Edwards, however, picked up the endorsement of Wisconsin's largest newspaper Monday.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said Edwards, a onetime trial lawyer and first-term senator from North Carolina, "seems to believe that the power of persuasion doesn't have to include excoriation and the politics of personal destruction."

Polls open in Wisconsin at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. ET), with 72 delegates up for grabs. (Delegate scorecard)

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

CNN's Sasha Johnson contributed to this report

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