Hopefuls set sights on Missouri voters

Edwards, Kerry and Sharpton will speak in Missouri today; others plan to follow.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry and the Rev. Al Sharpton will make campaign stops in Missouri today — the first of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates trying to capitalize on voter indecision after Rep. Dick Gephardt dropped out of the race last week.

Edwards will speak at 7:15 p.m. at Southwest Missouri State University’s Strong Hall and is scheduled for a 9:15 p.m. appearance at the Blueberry Hill restaurant in suburban St. Louis. Kerry will hold a rally at St. Louis Community College’s Forest Park campus at 4:30 p.m. today, and Sharpton will tour the St. Louis area all afternoon and into the evening.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean might be close behind. His local campaign organizer, Bob Berlin, said Dean would stop in Missouri — possibly in Columbia or Jefferson City — sometime before next Tuesday. Sen. Joe Lieberman and retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s campaign aides said those candidates might stop in Missouri as well.

The Missouri Democratic Party has invited all candidates to attend a debate at 7 p.m. Monday at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. No candidate committed to attend as of Tuesday afternoon, party spokesman Jim Gardner said, but Clark, Dean and Sharpton’s campaigns have expressed interest.

“A lot of it depends on New Hampshire,” Gardner said. “The outcome of the election could have an impact on where candidates choose to spend their resources.”

Missouri has more delegates at stake than any other state holding a primary election Tuesday, but candidates initially chose not to campaign here because of Gephardt’s strong influence in St. Louis. Since Gephardt dropped out and Missouri became a free-for-all, candidates have scrambled to dig in and win the votes analysts say are now up for grabs.

“I think everyone’s scrambling to come up with an opinion now,” said Charles Christy, chairman of the Boone County Democratic Central Committee.

About 23 percent of voters are expected to turn out statewide Tuesday, according to a report by Secretary of State Matt Blunt’s office, but Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren isn’t sure that number will hold up locally.

“It’s so volatile right now,” she said. “It just depends on the play this thing gets after New Hampshire.”

Missourian reporter Jason O’Connell contributed to this report.

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