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Democratic Presidential Contenders Face Off in Wisconsin Primary - 2004-02-17

The U.S. state of Wisconsin is holding its Democratic Party primary election Tuesday, with front-runner John Kerry looking to strengthen his bid for the party's presidential nomination.

The latest opinion polls indicate Senator Kerry from Massachusetts has a commanding lead over his two closest rivals - North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Monday, Wisconsin's largest circulation newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, endorsed Mr. Edwards, saying the North Carolina Senator "seems to believe in the power of persuasion and doesn't have to include excoriation and the politics of personal destruction."

Mr. Dean, meanwhile, announced that his campaign chairman, Steve Grossman, has left the campaign. He did not give a reason, but Mr. Grossman was quoted by The New York Times as saying he was ready to support Senator Kerry if Mr. Dean lost in Wisconsin.

Mr. Dean says he will stay in the race after today's vote - win or lose. He reminded reporters Monday that he was second only to Mr. Kerry in total delegates. The former Vermont Governor had previously said he needed to win in Wisconsin to stay in the race.

Mr. Kerry has won 14 of the 16 primaries and caucuses thus far.

The other two Democratic presidential hopefuls, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Reverend Al Sharpton, trail far behind in the polls and have not made major gains in any of the state contests.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.