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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

'This is background, right?'

John Kerry has one eye looking past Super Tuesday

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Editor

Smooth sailing? John Kerry appears to be cruising toward a touchdown on Super Tuesday, where he could win enough delegates to secure the nomination.
Smooth sailing? John Kerry appears to be cruising toward a touchdown on Super Tuesday, where he could win enough delegates to secure the nomination.

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Stay with CNN-USA for updates and analysis of the candidates and issues in the run-up to the "Super Tuesday" March 2 primary contest in 10 states.
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CNN's Frank Buckley on the CNN-Los Angeles Times Democratic debate Thursday night.
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CNN's Jeanne Meserve on John Kerry and his advisers.
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CNN's Joe Johns on Senate Democrats' efforts to complicate a bill on gun manufacturers.
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Sunday, February 29: Puerto Rico Republican primary

"Super Tuesday," March 2: Primaries in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Georgia; caucuses in Minnesota

When is your primary? For more key dates in the 2004 election season, see our special America Votes 2004 Election Calendar
Morning Grind
America Votes 2004

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- John Kerry is approaching this weekend, perhaps the final one he'll spend in the trenches of the '04 primary fight, with one eye cast beyond Super Tuesday, to a time when he can answer "hard questions and just talk" with small groups of voters, discuss his daughters' boyfriends over family dinners and maybe even take bike rides with Arnold Schwarzenegger. (He said it, we didn't).

Fueled by double-digit leads in every Super Tuesday state that matters, endorsements aplenty (including one next week from Bob Graham) and more than a 3-to-1 edge in the latest delegate count, Kerry is cruising, cautiously, toward a Tuesday touchdown that would secure his grip on the nomination. Who knows? Maybe he'll even get an air kiss from Charlize Theron at the Oscars on Sunday.

The person most aware of this reality might be John Edwards, who largely dodged several chances to tackle a particularly hoarse Kerry last night at the CNN/Los Angeles Times debate, held at the University of Southern California. The Johns differed slightly on the death penalty and trade, and Edwards said that some of Kerry's remarks last night were "different than some of the votes he's cast in the past." But the senators seemed to be seeking common ground on most issues they discussed, from gay marriage to Iraq.

Kerry's major public event today is a speech on terrorism and national security at UCLA at 1 p.m. ET. Two hours before that, the three wise men who helped craft Kerry's speech -- former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Kerry's foreign policy adviser, Rand Beers -- will hold a conference call to brief reporters on the speech.

On Tuesday, sources say, Kerry will return to Washington to cast potentially decisive votes on key amendments to the gun liability bill now before Congress. Kerry, of course, will join a coalition of Senate Democrats, and some Republicans, who support re-authorizing the assault-weapons ban. Edwards aides weren't sure last night whether the Tar Heel Senator would do so as well.

Edwards did score a semi-coup yesterday, bagging the endorsement of California Senate President Pro-Tem John Burton, one of the Golden State's legendary pols. "John Edwards is not only a candidate who can beat George Bush; he is the candidate who should beat George Bush," Burton said.

But Kerry will make up for Burton's nod today in New York, where several of Howard Dean's biggest supporters, including members of Congress, are expected to join his campaign. A 4:15 p.m. ET conference call is scheduled.

And so it was yesterday that a kinder and gentler Kerry sauntered to the back of his campaign airplane to chat with reporters, including CNN's Kelly Wallace and Justin Dial, about a range of issues and non-issues, including life after Tuesday. While he wouldn't say it, Kerry made it clear he thinks that life will lead to his winning the nomination.

"Once I get beyond Tuesday, we're hoping, I really want to sit down with people and I want you guys to get to be there, and kind of go back to what we did ... and let people grill me and get to talk to people," said a casually dressed Kerry. "I think we are going to try to do those kinds of things."

"I want to go, I want to try and do some events that are not, you know, a big rally, I want people to hear a real dialogue. I want people to be able to ask hard questions and just talk."

He says he's seen two movies recently, both on the campaign plane: "Master and Commander" and "Terminator 3." He talked about how much he liked the special effects in T3 and did a short imitation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "See if I can hook up with Arnold and take a Sunday bike ride."

Kerry said he and his daughters "haven't sat down and had a family dinner since, maybe pre-Christmas." He was asked about his daughter Alex's comment that she's more liberal than her dad. "She is, she is," he said. "We've had some fights."

What do they fight about? "I won't tell you."

What about boyfriends? "I never fight about that. I never, ever fight over that. I'm a very good dad. I listen about their boyfriends."

Do they want his advice? "Yes, they do. They actually do," he said. "This is background, right?"

Sure, it is, senator, all background. Keep on talking.

Dean's new group

Also today, we're watching the early stages of the creation of an organization that Dean announced last night he would launch March 18. No word on the exact name of the group, but it's a fair bet it'll feature the catch words, "democracy," "freedom" and "action." Just a hunch.

Speaking last night at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut, the former '04 front-runner said his group would:

• Promote grass-roots democracy and bring new people into politics.

• Support candidates and office-holders who "tell the truth," "stand up for what they believe" and "oppose the radical agenda of the far right."

• Fight against the special interests.

• Fight for progressive policies like health care, investment in children, equal rights, fiscal responsibility and a national security policy that "makes America stronger by working with allies and advancing progressive American values."

"We are determined to keep this organization as vibrant as it was throughout our campaign," Dean said last night. "There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again."

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