Kerry has huge day; electability on voters' minds
Seattle Times chief political reporter
John Kerry's momentum trumped Howard Dean's true believers in yesterday's Washington presidential caucuses. The Massachusetts senator beat the former Vermont governor 49 percent to 30 percent.
Kerry also dominated the Michigan caucus, winning 51 percent of the vote.
Here, it was hearts vs. minds in schools, firehouses, a bowling alley and homes across the state as Democrats debated whether to vote for the candidate who instilled passion among the rank and file or the one some argued had the best chance to beat President Bush in November.
"Dean had the organization, the enthusiasm and the crowds. But at the end of the day when people took a hard look at the candidates, their issues and their leadership quality, Kerry turned the tide," said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, co-chairman of Kerry's state campaign.
The caucuses at more than 550 sites brought out a record number of voters, as many as 200,000 Democrats, state party Chairman Paul Berendt said.
With nearly all of the vote counted, Kerry appeared to have won in all 39 counties and in eight of nine congressional districts, missing only the 7th District, represented by Dean supporter and liberal Seattle icon Jim McDermott.
He even won in the living-room caucus at the home of the state Democratic Party chairman, a strong Dean backer.
In the Michigan caucus yesterday, Dean, at 17 percent, was a distant second to Kerry. The two states are the largest prize of delegates yet in the nomination race.
The results continue a pattern seen since the first votes were cast in Iowa. Kerry won Iowa, New Hampshire and five of seven states that voted last week.
"Ours is a national campaign, and today we've shown that what unites us as one people is much more powerful than what has divided us during this president's term and in the years past. Together, we will move forward and bring a new day for a stronger, fairer and more prosperous America," Kerry said in a statement.
Kerry focused on November last night to signal that he is ready to fend off attacks that he's a Massachusetts liberal in the mode of Michael Dukakis, the party's 1988 nominee.
"This week George Bush and the Republican smear machine have trotted out the same old tired lines of attack that they've used before to divide this nation and to evade the real issues before us," he said in remarks prepared for a Democratic Party dinner in Richmond, Va.
Kerry's wins have helped him undo more than a year of carefully laid organization, high-tech luster and anti-war rhetoric that made Dean a good fit for Washington and propelled him into a position as the early and strong favorite.
In caucuses yesterday, strategy and practicality were an easy win.
"It was a pragmatic group of Democrats," said Berendt, an early and ardent Dean supporter.
That was true even in Berendt's Olympia home, where he hosted a caucus that gave Kerry an edge in the delegate count.
"They decided to go with Kerry because he was the front-runner and they had a comfort level that he was going to win," Berendt said. "They bought into the whole argument that Kerry was electable."
Washington didn't abandon its liberal roots yesterday. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the most liberal candidate, finished third, his best showing yet.
"There's a level of social activism in Washington that extends across many different issues — the war, trade, environment, health care," Kucinich said last night from San Francisco.
He said growing discontent with the Iraq war will draw people to his campaign.
"With Senator Kerry it would be trading a Republican war for a Democratic war," he said.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards finished fourth. He did not campaign in the state. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who also made no appearances here, finished fifth.
Dean said last week he thought it would be close here between him and Kerry.
But the state that first showed the Dean campaign to be a movement struck a blow to a candidacy teetering for weeks.
Dean supporter Robert Polson, watching results at a Democratic Party event at the Aerospace Machinists Hall in Seattle, said the campaign "was kind of over."
"It's certainly disappointing that so many Washington voters decided to go with the front-runner," said Pam Eakes, Dean's national finance co-chairwoman and a veteran Seattle Democratic activist.
She said she didn't know if yesterday's results would change Dean's plans to stay in the race at least through Wisconsin's primary Feb. 17.
"I think he'll make the courageous decision that's required," she said. "He is all about changing America and he's demonstrated his courage and vision and total conviction about that like no other candidate I have ever been associated with."
Eakes said that in three days last week Dean raised $1.5 million from 14,000 contributors through the campaign Web site. That, she said, could make it hard for Dean to drop out.
"I would not tell him what to do," she said. "When you see that kind of response for a request for funding I'm sure it's going to be a tough decision for him."
In Washington, the Kerry campaign was not running on momentum alone. He has had a professional staff here as long as Dean has and increased the staff after winning the opening contest in Iowa.
Taking a page from Dean's campaign, Kerry volunteers hand-wrote letters to undecided voters, said volunteer Andrew Boike of Federal Way.
The League of Conservation Voters, an influential national environmental group, endorsed Kerry last month and ran a mail, phone and pamphlet campaign for him last week.
Congressman Smith said he had expected a tight race between Kerry and Dean and was hoping for enough of a margin to knock Dean out of contention nationally.
"I didn't want to see Dean get up off the carpet," Smith said.
Dean supporters urged Democrats to back the man who came to prominence last year on a wave of anti-war feelings as well as tough talk against Bush. Dean also was critical of the Democratic Party, saying too many party members in Congress, including Kerry and Edwards, represented "Bush lite" and not what Dean liked to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
But Kerry's string of wins turned the debate to one about who was best qualified to take on Bush.
"I think Howard Dean is one of the bravest men in the Democratic Party," Tom Hobson said during his Seward Park-area precinct caucus. "But it will be too easy for the Bush campaign to cast Dean too far to the left."
Jenny Durkan, Edwards' state co-chairwoman, said electability was all anyone talked about at the caucus she attended in Mount Baker.
"Every single person who spoke for Kerry said, 'Look, we've got to beat Bush, and he's the one who has the war record and can beat him,' " she said.
To counter that, Durkan held up a map of the country and told her neighborhood Democrats, "There's no Democrat elected in our time that hasn't carried some of the South."
The caucuses yesterday were to select 26,934 delegates based on the proportion of votes each candidate got in precinct caucuses. That will be winnowed down in county conventions and the state convention this summer, where 76 delegates will be selected for the national convention. There are also 19 spots held by party leaders.
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
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