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Tuesday Looms as Next Test for US Democratic Presidential Candidates - 2004-02-02

Tuesday looms as the next major test in the 2004 presidential campaign. The seven Democrats running for president are looking for votes in seven states holding primaries or caucuses on Tuesday with a total of 269 delegates at stake.

Public opinion polls suggest Massachusetts Senator John Kerry could solidify his position as the front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination on Tuesday.

Senator Kerry is either ahead or competitive in all seven states holding contests Tuesday. The polls indicate he leads in Missouri and Arizona and is close to the lead in South Carolina and Oklahoma. Delaware, New Mexico and North Dakota are also choosing delegates to the Democratic Party's nominating convention on Tuesday.

One of the most watched primaries on Tuesday is in South Carolina where Senator Kerry appears to be in a close race with North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Senator Edwards has said he needs to win in South Carolina to keep his campaign viable.

He also told the CBS program Face the Nation that a Democratic candidate needs to be competitive in the south in order to win the presidency this year.

"I am the one person in the race who has a proven record of being able to win a tough election in the south. I think that translates to other parts of the country," he said.

The Kerry campaign is also in a close fight for delegates in Oklahoma where retired General Wesley Clark has a slight lead. Meanwhile, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is trying to rebound from disappointing showings in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr. Dean was interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press program and criticized Senator Kerry for accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists.

"The senator with the most special interest money over the last 15 years is John Kerry, who has just been running around and telling all Americans how he is going to get rid of the special interests and don't let the door hit you on the way out," he said. "That is exactly is what is wrong with American politics and that is why 50 percent of the people in this country don't vote."

Senator Kerry is trying to build on the momentum he created with early victories in Iowa and New Hampshire that made him the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.