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Election 2004

Edwards hopes to hang on for Fla.

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published March 2, 2004

Ten states weigh in on the Democratic presidential nomination today, probably deciding whether Florida Democrats say hello to the campaign of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, or goodbye.

The main challenger to front-runner John Kerry insists he's in the race through Florida's March 9 primary. But with Kerry having won 18 of 20 nominating contests, another Kerry sweep or near sweep today could turn Edwards' presidential bid into a hopeless quest, if not kill it altogether.

The North Carolina senator has moved three paid field staffers to Florida and is scheduled to campaign in Tampa Thursday night and Orlando Friday. Florida supporters, though, acknowledge uncertainty over whether they'll still have a candidate in the race by the end of this week.

"The consensus among the people who had supported Dean is we'll see what happens tomorrow, and if it looks good for Edwards then all the Dean people will go with him. If not, we'll vote for Dean and try to get some delegates," said Democratic activist David Lee of St. Petersburg, an ardent supporter of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Dean will be on the Florida ballot despite dropping out of the race.

Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign canceled a rally planned for Ybor City tonight so the Massachusetts senator can be in Washington to vote on extending a ban on assault weapons and other gun control measures. His campaign said the Tampa rally would be postponed until Monday.

The first presidential contender to hit the Tampa Bay area this week will be Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who plans to campaign in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties Wednesday and Thursday.

The 10 "Super Tuesday" states will apportion 1,151 delegates, more than half of the 2,162 needed to secure the nomination. Kerry so far has 688 delegates, compared to 205 for Edwards, according to an AP tally.

Polls show that Kerry leads Edwards in all 10 states, in some cases by big margins.

Florida has 177 delegates at stake a week from today, when Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi also hold primaries. Edwards supporters are hoping for surprise wins today, followed by a sweep of the Southern states that vote March 9.

"We are confident that Sen. Edwards will have a strong performance across the country (today), and then the Florida primary will be incredibly important," said Edwards spokeswoman Kim Rubey.

Edwards' campaign schedule was still being finalized Monday, but he is set to attend a private fundraiser in Tampa Thursday that's expected to raise at least $100,000 for his campaign. Tampa lawyer Steve Yerrid, a host of the event, dismissed the talk of Edwards' dropping out. No matter what happens today, he said, Edwards remains a top contender for vice president and generates a lot of enthusiasm among voters.

"We've had a very good response. Now mind you the response could change dramatically after tomorrow night," Yerrid said Monday of the fundraiser.

Edwards has essentially written off winning most of the Super Tuesday states, including delegate-rich California and New York, and has campaigned most aggressively in Ohio, Minnesota and Georgia. Georgia appears to offer his best shot at winning.

"At some point, I've got to start getting more delegates or I'm not going to be the nominee," Edwards said at a news conference in Ohio.

Kerry campaigned Monday in Maryland, Ohio and Georgia, promising to mount a sharp campaign against President Bush.

"If you trust me with this nomination, I will go right at George W. Bush," Kerry said in Baltimore. "This isn't going to be some kind of we're-like-them, they're-like-us-kind, wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, you can't tell the difference deal."

Many Democrats have touted Edwards as a formidable running mate for Kerry, but at a sometimes antagonistic debate Sunday, Edwards dismissed the suggestion he was still in the race to elevate his vice presidential prospects.

"Oh, no. Oh, no, no. Far from it," he said.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified March 2, 2004, 01:44:59]

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