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Kerry Heads into Tuesday's Southern Primaries with Strong Lead - 2004-02-09

Most of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning in Virginia and Tennessee in advance of primaries in both states on Tuesday. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is poised to solidify his status as the Democratic front-runner in Tuesday's voting.

Public opinion polls indicate that Senator Kerry has a lead in both Virginia and Tennessee. Senator Kerry has won in most regions of the country except the south and a win in either of Tuesday's primaries would bolster his standing as a national candidate.

Senator Kerry told Virginia Democrats that voters are rallying to his candidacy because they believe he would be the strongest Democrat against President Bush in the November election.

"And that is the same message that I am carrying to Virginia and to Tennessee and to the rest of this country and that message is, George Bush's days are numbered, and change is on the way," he said.

Senator Kerry is trying to build on three caucus wins over the previous two days in Michigan, Washington State and Maine.

But Senator Kerry's rivals are not giving up. North Carolina Senator John Edwards and retired General Wesley Clark are both campaigning in Virginia and Tennessee.

Both men focused on the loss of U.S. jobs as they campaigned on Monday.

Senator Edwards told ABC's This Week program that he would the strongest Democrat to run against President Bush because of his appeal to voters in the South.

"This election is about who can best represent the Democratic Party in the general election," he said. "I believe that is me because I can beat George Bush everywhere in America."

Meanwhile, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is focusing his campaign on the February 17 primary in Wisconsin, a contest he has described as a "must win."

President Bush was asked about the election campaign during his hour-long interview Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press program. He says he is not worried about recent public opinion polls that show him losing the election to Senator Kerry.

"I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I am going to do and do it," he said. "And to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make. But I am not going to change because of polls. That is just not my nature."

President Bush is unopposed within his own Republican Party. He told NBC that he intends to win the November election and says the key issue in the campaign will be which candidate can "properly use American power in a way to make the world a better place."