Massachusetts Senator John Kerry took another big step toward securing the Democratic Party's presidential nomination Tuesday with primary victories in the southern states of Virginia and Tennessee. Democrats seem to be rallying around Senator Kerry as the strongest candidate to face President Bush in the November election.

Senator Kerry racked up comfortable victories in both Virginia and Tennessee and put to rest doubts that his New England liberal background would not appeal to Democrats in the south.

"Once again, the message rings out loud and clear. Americans are voting for change, east and west, north and now in the south," he said as he spoke to his jubilant supporters in Virginia. "And I am grateful for that."

North Carolina Senator John Edwards finished a distant second in Virginia followed by retired General Wesley Clark and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Senator Kerry also built a healthy margin in Tennessee.

Voter exit surveys conducted by news organizations indicated that many of the Democrats and independents who voted in Virginia and Tennessee were concerned with job losses, the state of the economy, health care and Iraq. But many Democrats said the deciding factor that led to their support for Senator Kerry was a belief that he would be the strongest candidate against President Bush in November.

Senator Kerry's southern victories are expected to increase pressure on his remaining rivals to abandon their presidential campaigns. Most of them have vowed to continue on until the so-called Super Tuesday primaries on March 2 that include ten state contests around the country.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is aiming for a good showing in next Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin, even though Senator Kerry leads in the polls there.

"We ought never, as Democrats, to be afraid of standing up for the right to organize and for the right of ordinary men and women to have a decent middle class lifestyle," said Mr. Dean as he spoke to his supporters in Wisconsin. "We ought never to be ashamed, as Democrats, of demanding, as [former President] Harry Truman did in 1948, of health insurance for every single American."

Former Governor Dean says he will stay in the race regardless of how he does in Wisconsin. That is a change from an earlier vow that he had to win there in order to remain in the race.