ST. LOUIS — Almost immediately after Tuesday’s primary election wrapped up in New Hampshire, three candidates for the Democratic nomination flew to St. Louis on Wednesday, underscoring Missouri’s importance in the Feb. 3 primaries.
John Kerry came into St. Louis as the front-runner Wednesday evening in his last-minute campaign rally here, showcasing powerful endorsements and slanting his speech against President Bush and toward his own electability.
“This is the ‘Show-Me State,’ and we’re going to show Bush the door,” he said in his speech, which also blamed the Bush administration for the loss of 3 million American jobs and called Bush’s foreign policy arrogant.
The rally, which was held in the student center of the St. Louis Community College Forest Park campus, was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with Kerry supporters and media — a far cry from Kerry’s rally attendance before he won the Iowa caucuses last week. His popularity has picked up even more since he convincingly won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday by 12 percentage points over second-place finisher Howard Dean.
Kerry’s momentum coming into Missouri paid off in big-name endorsements as well. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack threw his support behind Kerry at the rally, joining his wife, Christie, who openly supported Kerry during his Iowa campaign. Former Missouri Sens. Jean Carnahan and Tom Eagleton declared their support, as did St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and former Gov. Warren Hearnes among others.
Many Democrats at the rally said they think Kerry’s growing list of well-known endorsers reflects his strength as the Democratic nominee. Most Democrats interviewed said they will vote for the candidate who has the best chance to beat Bush.
Missouri’s primary has 74 pledged delegates up for grabs Tuesday — more than any other state holding a primary that day.
According to poll numbers Tuesday, Kerry leads other democrats in Missouri, but more voters are undecided than support Kerry.
“Most of us aren’t ready to throw our weight behind a candidate just yet,” said David Brash, of Ballwin, as he lingered after the Kerry rally.
John Edwards visited Springfield and St. Louis on Wednesday evening, while the Rev. Al Sharpton arrived in St. Louis ahead of Kerry and Edwards and held a series of events.
During a speech on the campus of Southwest Missouri State University, Edwards told a crowd of about 1,000 people what his campaign was about.
“Our campaign is not based on the politics of cynicism. It’s based on hope. It’s based on the politics of what’s possible,” he said. “You give me a shot at George Bush, I will give you the White House.”
Sharpton also campaigned in St. Louis on Wednesday with appearances and rallies scheduled all day and into the evening.
Associated Press contributed to this report.