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Democratic Front Runner Kerry Wins Endorsement of Former Rival - 2004-02-06

Senator John Kerry won the endorsement of one of his former presidential rivals Friday as he continues his drive toward the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt is the latest to join the Kerry bandwagon.

The Gephardt endorsement could pay some immediate political dividends for Senator Kerry on the eve of Democratic presidential caucuses in Michigan and Washington State.

Congressman Gephardt is popular with organized labor and his support of Senator Kerry could be helpful in Michigan with its heavy union membership.

"We need a leader who can defeat George Bush in November in the general election and we need a leader who we all know can walk into that Oval Office tomorrow afternoon and be a great President of the United States," he said.

Senator Kerry is increasingly ignoring his remaining rivals for the Democratic nomination and focusing instead on President Bush.

"I'm here to make another prediction," said John Kerry. "And that is, like father, like son, one term and you are done! And that is the prediction."

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the Kerry strategy is to convince Democrats around the country that he is unstoppable for the party's presidential nomination and that he would be the strongest Democrat to take on the president in the November election.

"He is shifting and I think he will shift more," he said. "I think the one great asset that John Kerry has is the growing sense of inevitability in the nomination. And this is the time to talk about unifying the party and this is the time to take on George W. Bush."

Public opinion polls suggest Senator Kerry will do well in upcoming Democratic caucuses in Michigan, Washington State and Maine.

Two of his rivals - North Carolina Senator John Edwards and retired General Wesley Clark - are focused on winning votes in Tuesday's primaries in Tennessee and Virginia.

Another rival, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, has told supporters he must win the February 17 primary in Wisconsin in order to stay in the race.

Senator Kerry has won seven of nine primaries so far and is the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination.