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Voters in 7 States Head to Primary Polls - 2004-02-03

Voters in seven U.S. states are going to the polls Tuesday to register their choice for a Democratic Party candidate to challenge President Bush in November.

The primary contests constitute the first multi-regional challenge for the seven Democratic presidential hopefuls, with ballots cast in Delaware, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arizona, plus caucuses in North Dakota and New Mexico.

Public opinion polls show Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, winner of last month's Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, as the clear favorite in all but two states: South Carolina and Oklahoma. Campaigning Monday, Mr. Kerry made no predictions about the primary races, but he did predict one outcome in November: defeat for President Bush.

"I predict today, like father like son, one term [in office] only - Bush is going to be gone," he said.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards is pinning his hopes on a neighboring state, South Carolina, where public opinion polls show him with a narrow lead over John Kerry. Addressing supporters in South Carolina Monday, a hoarse Mr. Edwards said he would do well against President Bush in the South - a region Mr. Bush swept in the presidential vote four years ago.

"The South is not George Bush's backyard," he said. "It is my backyard, and I will beat George Bush in my backyard."

Mr. Edwards has said the South Carolina is a "must-win" state if his campaign is to succeed.

Retired Army General Wesley Clark's best hope for victory appears to be Oklahoma, where polls show him in a dead heat with John Kerry. The Democrats' one-time front-runner, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, is not favored to win in any of the seven states, and has focused his attention on upcoming contests in Washington state and Michigan.

Tuesday's vote is the biggest challenge ahead of so-called "Super Tuesday" on March 2, when candidates will compete in ten states, including voter-rich New York and California.