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Inside Politics

Kerry wins Wisconsin, CNN projects

Kerry smiles before addressing supporters in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Kerry smiles before addressing supporters in Middleton, Wisconsin.

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Sen. John Kerry says Wisconsin voters have moved his campaign forward.
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Sen. John Edwards thanks supporters for his strong showing in Wisconsin.
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CNN's Candy Crowley on what could be the end of the road for Howard Dean's campaign.
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CNN's Larry King talks with his panel about the surprisingly close finish in Wisconsin.
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Democratic delegates at stake in Wisconsin: 72

Unpledged "superdelegates" from Wisconsin: 15

Delegates needed to win Democratic national presidential nomination: 2,161

Percentage of national delegates represented in Wisconsin: 1.66

Who can vote today: Any registered Wisconsin voter, the primary is open

Compiled by Robert Yoon and Mark Rodeffer

America Votes 2004
Democratic candidates
Presidential primaries

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- CNN projects Sen. John Kerry will win Wisconsin's presidential primary in a narrow victory over Sen. John Edwards.

With 84 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry was leading with 39 percent to Edwards' 35 percent.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, drawing less than half as many votes as Kerry, will finish a distant third.

Ignoring his rival Democrats, the Massachusetts senator hammered the Bush administration, taking the president to task on the economy, health care, international relations and his military record.

"We will outsource George Bush's unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest Americans so we can invest in health care and education in this country," Kerry vowed Tuesday night, as the vote results became clear.

"We reject the view that a president's job is just to raise the value of the stock market. We believe the job of a president is to put America back to work and to do it now," he told supporters in Middleton, Wisconsin.

The razor-close result between the two Democrats surprised even Edwards, who said polling showed Kerry as much as 35 points ahead just two days ago.

"I am surprised by the strength of the surge. I'm not surprised by the surge," the North Carolina senator told CNN. "We've surged in a lot of states at the end when people got a close look at me and my campaign."

Edwards' close second-place showing could potentially shake up the Democratic race by slowing down the Kerry tidal wave ahead of Super Tuesday, in two weeks, when voters in 10 states decide how candidates will divide 1,151 delegates. ('s interactive Delegate Scorecard)

"I've been looking forward to the time when this is a two-person race and people will focus on Senator Kerry and myself," Edwards said. "It now appears that we're very close to that place, and maybe even there."

Meanwhile, Dean's weak showing, in a state where he once vowed he would make a last stand, will likely raise new questions about whether he will get out of the race, although he insisted again Tuesday that he would forge ahead to Super Tuesday, no matter the outcome.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York were getting single-digit support in Wisconsin. Neither has won a nominating contest.

Exit polling found that more than half of Tuesday's voters in Wisconsin made up their minds in the last three days, and Edwards beat Kerry by more than 15 points among those late-deciding voters. Among voters who made up their minds earlier, Kerry led by more than 30 points.

Independent voters, who could vote in Wisconsin's open primary, made up about 30 percent of Tuesday's electorate, and they broke for Edwards by a 12-point margin, according to exit polls. However, actual Democrats preferred Kerry by a 20-point margin.

In the final days of the campaign, Edwards seized upon an issue that he hoped would resonate with Wisconsin voters -- the loss of manufacturing jobs from trade agreements, such as NAFTA.

He pointed out that he opposed NAFTA, which Kerry and Dean supported. He also exhorted voters not to rush to a "coronation" of Kerry, and he received glowing endorsements from newspapers in Milwaukee and Madison.

Edwards told CNN that he would continue to make distinctions between himself and Kerry on trade and other issues, although "it won't in any way be personal."

"There are differences between us, and voters need to know those differences," he said.

Kerry has now won 16 of 18 Democratic primaries and caucuses, though he had secured just slightly more than a quarter of the delegates he needs to win his party's White House nomination. In Wisconsin, 72 delegates were up for grabs. ('s interactive look at Primary Results to date)

Making an appearance at a polling place late in the afternoon, Kerry expressed cautious optimism and said he was "very confident about where the campaign's headed." He also took aim at his rivals' strategy of trying to find states where they think they can stop him.

"You can't run for president cherry-picking states here and there, picking up one or two delegates," he said. "You have to run for president nationally, and I think I've been the only one in recent weeks who's been doing that."

He also said that a close second-place showing by Edwards would not affect his campaign strategy.

"A win's a win, and then you move on to the next location," he said.

Kerry was non-committal when asked whether he would agree to a one-on-one debate with Edwards if Dean leaves and the race narrows, noting that Kucinich and Sharpton also remain in the race.

"I'm not going to deal with any hypotheticals," he said. "We'll deal as we go down the road."

On Monday, Dean's own campaign chairman left after publicly suggesting that Dean should quit if he wasn't successful in Wisconsin. But Tuesday, Dean said: "This isn't done yet."

"I'm in this to win. We have more delegates to the convention than anybody else except John Kerry, and we think we can overhaul him in the Super Tuesday primaries [on March 2]," he said.

Super Tuesday features the largest single batch of primaries and caucuses on the Democratic calendar. A total of 1,151 delegates will be picked that day in 10 states, including such electoral prizes as California, New York, Ohio and Georgia. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

Preceding Super Tuesday are caucuses next week in Hawaii and Idaho and a primary in Utah.

CNN has learned that another major union that had offered early support to Dean, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, has decided to shift its support to Kerry. Leaders of another big pro-Dean union, the Service Employees International Union, will meet Wednesday.

Campaign aides said to expect no major announcements about the future of the campaign Tuesday night, when Dean is scheduled to leave Wisconsin to fly back home to Vermont.

Kerry's spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, said polling in six of the Super Tuesday states shows the senator with large leads over his rivals. Kerry will travel to Ohio Wednesday, one of the five March 2 states where his campaign plans to spend most of its effort over the next fortnight. The others are New York, California, Georgia and Minnesota.

Cutter also said Tuesday that Kerry does not plan to resign his Senate seat while he continues his campaign for president, as former Sen. Bob Dole did in 1996 when he was the GOP nominee.

CNN correspondents Kelly Wallace, Dan Lothian and Candy Crowley and producers Justin Dial and Sasha Johnson contributed to this report.

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