Democrats try to sway undecided voters in primaries

Monday, February 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:27 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Democratic presidential rivals worked across several time zones Sunday to sway undecided voters in states with contests early this week. Howard Dean conceded making an “enormous gamble” by spending so much in Iowa and New Hampshire only to lose both states. “It didn’t work,” he said.

Sen. John Kerry pressed his front-runner’s advantage in North Dakota while Sen. John Edwards concentrated on South Carolina, a state he says he must win. Edwards trails Kerry in six of the seven states holding primaries or caucuses on Tuesday, except in his native South Carolina.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark borrowed a page from Kerry’s campaign playbook, reuniting with a soldier credited with saving his life in Vietnam, while Sen. Joe Lieberman welcomed a new round of newspaper endorsements.

It was a day of morning television appearances and evening Super Bowl parties for the candidates.

Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina hold primaries Tuesday, along with caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota. At stake are a total of 269 pledged delegates to the Democratic convention, more than 12 percent of the 2,162 needed to win the party’s presidential nomination.

While polls show Kerry with comfortable leads in the states, except South Carolina, as many as one in five voters remain undecided two days before the contests, according to surveys.

In New Mexico, a new Albuquerque Journal poll showed Kerry ahead with 31 percent support, while 27 percent of likely voters are still undecided.

Dean told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he regretted burning most of the $41 million his campaign raised last year. “We spent a lot of money in Iowa and New Hampshire trying to win,” said Dean, the third-place finisher in Iowa and runner-up to Kerry in New Hampshire. Kerry also won in Iowa.

Dean and Kerry both opted to skip public financing, meaning they are not subject to spending limits — but are not getting the federal matching money that is flowing to campaign rivals .

“We took an enormous gamble and it didn’t work,” Dean said.

Dean said he wasn’t ready to leave the race and was focused on winning delegates, of which he has more at this point than Kerry. Dean has 114 delegates, to Kerry’s 103.

Kerry, fulfilling a pledge to campaign in all of Tuesday’s states, spent the day in Fargo, N.D., where he accused the Bush administration of an “incredible cave-in” to drug companies at taxpayers’ expense, citing the dramatically higher cost estimated for the new Medicare overhaul.

The administration now puts the 10-year cost of the prescription drug benefit at $534 billion. That is one-third higher than the $395 billion figure from the Congressional Budget Office that administration officials and GOP congressional leaders cited as they pushed the legislation through Congress in November.

Kerry used the revised Medicare figures to illustrate his campaign theme that the pharmaceutical industry is the main beneficiary of the new drug benefit.

“We learned that in their incredible cave-in to the powerful interests of the drug companies of America, they dunned the taxpayers of our nation $139 billion extra so they can line the pockets of people who contributed to their campaign,” Kerry told about 600 people. “He thought you wouldn’t notice what’s happening.”

In Columbia, S.C., Edwards attended morning services at the predominantly black Bible Way Church. He also predicted the race in the state would be close despite his expected advantage as a next-door neighbor who represents North Carolina in the Senate.

Asked at one stop whether he would be interested in being Kerry’s running mate, Edwards retorted: “I think you should ask Senator Kerry whether he’s interested in being vice president.” Edwards has said he has no interest in the No. 2 spot.

Edwards toured the state by bus. With his voice hoarse, he told a group of supporters in Florence, S.C.: “You can see I’ve been talking a little too much.”

Al Sharpton also spent the day campaigning in South Carolina, where his fellow blacks could represent up to half of Tuesday’s voters.

While lagging far behind the others in most primary states, Sharpton said he has no plans to drop out.

“We have, from the beginning, had a strategy to pick up enough delegates to go to the convention to win and, at worst, make a strong enough showing that our concerns are there with delegate strength,” Sharpton told CNN. “On Tuesday, we’ll win delegates in South Carolina, in Missouri and Delaware, go on from there to Michigan, three days later on to Virginia, and on and on.”

Clark campaigned in Oklahoma with Mike McClintic, who pushed him to the ground and protected him after the now retired Army general was shot during a mission in the jungles of Vietnam in 1970. Clark and McClintic had not seen each other since that day.

The campaign trail reunion was similar to one Kerry had two days before the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses with Jim Rassmann, a fellow serviceman Kerry rescued 35 years ago in Vietnam.

Lieberman welcomed newspaper endorsements from two South Carolina publications — The State of Columbia and the Greenville News — along with the Seattle Times. All highlighted Lieberman’s centrist views.

“What this says is that I have national support,” Lieberman told reporters after attending church services in Wilmington, Del. “I’m the Democrat who can bring people together and win the election and actually get something done. That’s the appeal I make to the voters here in Delaware and the six other states.”

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