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Democrats Poised for Critical 'Super Tuesday' Balloting - 2004-03-01

The four remaining Democratic presidential candidates engaged in a final day of campaigning in advance of 10 primary elections or caucuses on Tuesday. A sweep of the so-called "Super Tuesday" contests would make Massachusetts Senator John Kerry virtually unstoppable for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Public opinion polls give Senator Kerry a lead in virtually all 10 states holding Democratic contests on Tuesday, including the delegate-rich states of New York and California.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards is looking to stay in the race with a victory somewhere in the Tuesday voting. His best chances appear to be either Georgia or Ohio.

Two other candidates, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, remain in the race, but trail badly in both delegates won and public opinion polls.

On Sunday, the four remaining Democratic candidates took part in one final debate before the Super-Tuesday voting. Senator Edwards tried to highlight his differences with Senator Kerry, including the fact that Senator Kerry has spent much of his career as a Washington politician. "It is whether the people of this country believe that we are going to get change that originates in Washington or change that has to come from out here in the real world," he said.

Senator Kerry said his experience on foreign and domestic issues gives him an advantage over Senator Edwards. He also questioned whether Senator Edwards can present himself as a Washington outsider. "Last time I looked, John ran for the United States Senate and he has been in the Senate for the last five years. That seems to me to be Washington, D.C.," he said.

The tone of the Sunday debate was more tense than previous ones, reflecting what analysts said was Senator Edwards' need to make an impact in at least one of the ten Super-Tuesday states.

But time and organization appear to favor Senator Kerry at this point. The Massachusetts Democrat has won about one-third of the delegates he needs to claim the party's presidential nomination and the polls suggest he could win the bulk of the more than 1,150 delegates at stake in the Tuesday contests.

The winning candidate needs 2,162 delegates to win the nomination. Senator Edwards trails in the delegate count at the moment by roughly a 3-1 margin.

Should Senator Edwards pull some surprises Tuesday and emerge with a victory or two, he could extend the race by a week until March 9, when four southern states choose delegates.

But a Kerry sweep of Tuesday's primaries would likely encourage Democratic Party leaders to increase pressure on Senator Edwards to withdraw from the race, especially if he has any interest in joining Senator Kerry as the Democratic nominee for vice-president, something many Democrats say they would support.