Presidential primaries are underway in Virginia and Tennessee. The contests will give an indication of whether Massachusetts Senator John Kerry can maintain his front-runner status among the Democratic candidates as the nomination process moves through the south.
Senator Kerry is looking for his first wins in the south. Public opinion polls indicate he could get them in Virginia and Tennessee, a breakthrough that analysts say could prove to voters that he has emerged as the strongest candidate to take on President Bush in November. "We are going to reject the cynicism and the radical direction this administration is taking us," he said.
But two candidates who are from the south, North Carolina Senator John Edwards and retired General Wesley Clark, who is a native of Arkansas, are both hoping Tuesday's primaries will slow the Kerry momentum.
If they are unable to beat John Kerry in the south, however, some Democratic Party leaders are suggesting they should consider quitting the race. But John Edwards is vowing to stay in the contest, even if he finishes second. "What I want to do is finish in the top two here in Virginia, top two in Tennessee. Then we go on to Wisconsin. As I said earlier, I think this thing is very quickly narrowing to a two-person race," he said.
Virginia is home to a large concentration of active duty and retired military personnel, and both Senator Kerry and retired General Wesley Clark have worked to court the military vote. General Clark spent the hours before the primary working to draw a distinction between himself and long-time Senator Kerry and first-term Senator Edwards, a lawyer by profession. "You got some choices in this race. You got a great lawyer, he is a wonderful man, he is a great lawyer. You got a man who spent his life in the Senate. He is a wonderful legislator. Or you got somebody like me," he said.
Notably absent from campaigning in the South has been former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has yet to win any state primaries or caucuses. He is concentrating on winning next week's primary in Wisconsin. But in a reversal, he says he is no longer considering ending his campaign, if he does not win there.