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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

One race over, two others begin

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Final thoughts: John Edwards addresses supporters Tuesday night in Atlanta, Georgia.
Final thoughts: John Edwards addresses supporters Tuesday night in Atlanta, Georgia.

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ON CNN TV
Watch CNN-USA now: Soledad O'Brien, Bill Hemmer and Jack Cafferty lead the "American Morning" team's coverage of President Bush's campaign efforts in the West and John Kerry's stumping ahead of Tuesday's primaries in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
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CNN's Bill Schneider on exit polls' indications that most Democrats believe Kerry's experience would give him the best chance to defeat President Bush.
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GOP strategist Ralph Reed sizes up the Democratic competition.
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John Edwards vows to continue fighting for American values.
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UPCOMING PRIMARIES

 Tuesday, March 9: Primaries in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas

 Sunday, March 14: Nevada county caucuses

 Tuesday, March 16: Illinois primary

 Saturday, March 20: Wyoming and Alaska Democratic caucuses

When is your primary? For more key dates in the 2004 election season, see our special America Votes 2004 Election Calendar
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Edwards ends his '04 Dem campaign today at his daughter's high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to campaign sources, some 14 months after he joined up to be a "champion for regular people." (Al Sharpton might quit, too -- more on that below.)

But from Edwards' departure will bloom two fast-moving contests, both of which should breathe new life into this increasingly listless campaign season. (Interactive: Cinching nominations in the past)

First, of course, we now can focus on a full-on face-off between John Kerry and George W. Bush, who we hear has personally started reviewing Kerry's media interviews and debate performances in preparation for eventual encounters. The Bush-Kerry race, simmering for weeks, picks up steam at 9:30 a.m. ET today in Arlington, when we'll get our first glimpse of Bush's new TV ads.

Campaign manager Ken Mehlman, strategist Matthew Dowd and advertising guru Mark McKinnon will also provide a pen-and-pad briefing for reporters. A $4.5 million ad buy, none of which mentions Kerry, begins tomorrow in more than a dozen battleground states.

The second new contest, the veepstakes, has had more trouble stretching its legs this year, mostly because Kerry has declined to loosen its leash. But sources tell CNN's John King that the Democratic nominee (Kerry) is privately pushing to settle the question well before Dems gather in Boston in late July. (John King on Kerry's new challenges)

Sources say the Kerry camp could announce a veep search team within weeks, maybe even days, and Kerry could choose a running mate by late spring or early summer. (As a point of reference, Al Gore didn't announce his choice of Joe Lieberman until August 7, 2000, just one week before his convention got under way in Los Angeles.)

Kerry got the ball rolling last night, telling reporters after his victory speech at the Old Post Office Pavilion that it's "too early for me to talk about running mates, but obviously I need to start thinking about how I'm going to do that. That's something that I've given some small thought to, but now I need to be very serious about it." (Kerry, Democrats look to election)

And so it begins, again, another round of could-be/would-be in which speculation (over lists, short and long) and rumors (of late-night phone calls and backroom lunches) morph into front-page news. Names are floated -- often as trial balloons, but just as often to score points with key constituencies. (Did anyone really think Gore was going to choose Jeanne Shaheen in 2000?)

We wouldn't have it any other way.

So, who will it be? We haven't the foggiest idea.

Kerry did toss out his first official tea leaf last night. The recipient: John Edwards.

In his victory speech, Kerry detoured three times from a laundry list of policy prose to praise his Senate colleague -- that's two times more than Kerry praised any other vanquished rival this year. Kerry said Edwards has a "compelling voice, great eloquence and great promise for leadership for years to come." He called his former competitor a "friend" and said he's a "valiant champion of the values for which our party stands."

During a brief telephone talk last night in which Edwards informed Kerry that he would quit today, the two senators pledged to meet up in the near future to talk about the campaign. Aides say Kerry will be watching Edwards closely today at his withdrawal news conference (expected at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday). "How he handles himself in the next 24 hours" will go a long way toward determining how much support Edwards will enjoy within the Kerry campaign, a confidante told CNN's King yesterday evening. (Edwards to quit race)

So does Edwards want to live at the Naval Observatory? "If asked, I am sure he would say yes," one Edwards aide said, but "there was, or is, no plan to be the running mate. It is not how he works. He was running for president."

Senior Kerry advisers and other leading Dems have already developed a short list that features Dick Gephardt, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, although we're told a larger list is forming that includes more governors. The longer list under discussion includes Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and ex-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

"But we are nowhere in terms of who," said a senior Kerry adviser. "We have a lot of work to do first."

Meanwhile, the Kerry camp is also plotting out who will be its liaison to the convention, taking place in the senator's hometown of Boston. Jack Corrigan, a former prosecutor and a major player in Mike Dukakis' campaign in 1988, is the camp's choice, several campaign and party operatives told CNN. What Corrigan's title will be is uncertain, "but he is the campaign convention guy," a senior Democratic source said.

Corrigan enjoys close relations with three important Boston constituencies: Sen. Ted Kennedy, Mayor Tom Menino and the city's powerful labor community.

Speaking of plotting, watch out, Terry McAuliffe. You may be in Kerry's crosshairs.

Kerry and several of his top advisers are said to be adamant that McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, take a much lower public profile now that Kerry has locked up their party's nod.

One senior Kerry adviser told CNN that the senator and his top aides were furious when McAuliffe accused Bush of being "AWOL" during his days in the National Guard. "Let's just say that was a surprise we could have done without," a senior Kerry adviser said.

This senior adviser acknowledged that it would be "very messy" to try to replace McAuliffe in the middle of the campaign. This and another senior Kerry campaign source also credited McAuliffe with early planning for the convention and fund-raising.

"Our issue is the message and we need to control that," the second source said. The debate within the Kerry campaign is whether to simply ask McAuliffe to take a lower media profile and have the campaign arrange surrogate appearances or whether to ask a senior Democrat to join the DNC leadership team as "General Chairman" or some title to that effect. Three campaign aides said no decision had been made.

And finally today, back to Sharpton, who sounded very much last night like a candidate on his way out. Asked by Bob Dole on CNN's "Larry King Live" whether he was considering a withdrawal, Sharpton said we'll know more about his plans "in the next day or so." (Sharpton mulls staying or withdrawing)

"I think that one of the responsible ways of making decisions is to talk to the people that you both have struggled with," Sharpton said. "We want to see Bush defeated, but we also want to see our constituency dealt with. And how that will play out, we'll know in the next day or so."


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