GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (retired)
Tues. Feb. 10: It was during a three-hour drive to Memphis, where the campaign was set to hold its victory rally, that the sun began to set, literally as well as figuratively, on Wesley Clark's candidacy. Early election returns showed Clark was losing decisively to both John Kerry and John Edwards in Virginia, and also placing third in Tennessee.
An early travel schedule issued to the press the day before suggested Clark was set to begin campaigning in Wisconsin the next day for the state's primary the following week. But as Kerry and Edwards' leads grew, those on the press bus began to wonder if and when we would be rerouted to Little Rock, Clark's hometown. Since there was no staff member on the bus, speculation spread down the aisle unchecked.
The motorcade stopped at a Memphis polling site so Clark could shake more hands before idly watching election returns in his hotel room. While greeting the crowd of mostly supporters, the tone of the campaign was noticeably subdued.
"I hope you much success," one woman said as she hugged her candidate.
"Thank you very much," Clark responded, wistfully continuing, "It's what we need, it's what we need."
Clark always maintained a Tennessee victory was important to his campaign, but he never addressed whether or not he had a contingency plan. When asked by a local television reporter if the primary was a "deciding factor," on the premise that returns were unfavorable for a Clark win, he replied, "Well, it might be."
As the traveling press corps tried to get a feeling as to whether or not the campaign could recover from the Tennessee blow, multiple staffers suggested there was no scheduling change, at least not "right now," one stressed. The decision had not been made.
Nor had it been made by the time General Clark came into his "victory" party to a crowd chanting, "Stay, Wes, Stay!" Clark's speech was an ambiguous salute to Tennessee voters and his ideals of America; there was no language indicating he would either stay in the race or pull out.
"We may have lost this battle today, but I'll tell you what. We're not going to lose the battle for America's future. Our goal remains the same – to change the direction of our country and bring a higher standard of leadership to the White House." In hindsight, only in the first "we" was Clark referring to himself.
Clark closed his eight-minute speech through the applause of a mix of volunteers, supporters and teary-eyed staffers. "And we'll leave Tennessee even more full of hope and even more committed to building a better America than when we began this journey five months ago. And that's because of all of you. That's because of your commitment, your determination, your support and your belief that in this United States of America, we can move our country forward. We can do better than George W. Bush, and we must," he said.
When the speech ended, Clark briefly shook hands, telling one of many confused reporters, "We're going to talk about everything tomorrow." When he disappeared behind the curtain, so did his staff. Reporters tried fruitlessly to contact any of the Little Rock staff members who descended on Memphis for Clark's speech. As media deadlines fast approached, it was decided that if the campaign wouldn't come to us for answers we would go to them.
About 20 reporters poured into a Marriott elevator to stake out General Clark's 18th floor hotel room. A staffer peered out to tell the frustrated group that the general was not in the room and that the campaign would send a representative downstairs to the press filing center. When the horde of reporters didn't budge, another staffer broke the group up by giving a more specific answer. Communications director Matt Bennett would address the group in about an hour's time.
Less than ten minutes later, the Associated Press reported that Clark was dropping out of the race. Bennett appeared shortly after that. "It's a very simple announcement: General Clark has decided to leave the race," he said, matter of factly. "He did it after the final results were in for Tennessee and the decision is final, and we're leaving the race."
After a round of questions, Bennett revealed that the general made the decision with his wife and son, calling to inform campaign chairman Eli Segal from a cell phone. The news was still spreading to lower-level staffers as Bennett addressed the press.
Kerry's lead became insurmountable, according to the campaign. "I think the pressure came for a variety of reasons, one was Senator Kerry's momentum in the race, the other was financing, but those are kind of a piece. When your momentum dies, your financing dies with it," Bennett explained.
And although Clark was "disappointed," he was also practical and optimistic. "He's a first-time candidate for any office, and getting in the race in late September – two things that are almost impossible to overcome for anyone. So he was realistic, and I think at the end of the day, proud of what he accomplished," Bennett said.
Early Wednesday morning, Clark and his family slipped past the few remaining members of the traveling press corps onto their bus to make the drive back to Little Rock, where the retired general will officially retire from the race for the Democratic nomination. But don't count on Clark disappearing into the woodwork just yet.
When asked if the former candidate would consider a role as vice-presidential nominee, Bennett responded, "He's neither ruled in or out anything at all. Anything."
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.
Tues. Feb. 10: Kerry erased doubts about his viability in the South Tuesday as he overwhelmingly won the Virginia and Tennessee primaries, after a final day of campaigning in both states.
During his victory speech to over 2,000 people at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., a small crowd of folks wielding Bush-Cheney signs cheered when Kerry mentioned the president's name. The crowd immediately erupted in boos before Kerry shouted them down.
"We're not gonna boo in the course of this campaign. We're gonna cheer for what we're gonna do in this country," Kerry said.
After his speech, Kerry received a phone call from Wesley Clark where Kerry asked Clark if he was on to Wisconsin. Kerry aides said the brief phone call was strictly congratulatory, however, within hours Clark's camp said he would drop out.
"He will no doubt continue to contribute to the life of our party and our country," Kerry said in a statement shortly after the news broke." We look forward to working with him in the months ahead to defeat George Bush and bring change to America."
Kerry's success on Tuesday catapulted him to solid front-runner status and, naturally, leads to questions about Kerry as the nominee and whether he can hold up against President Bush and the GOP's huge war chest. A senior source close to Kerry said on his flight from Memphis to northern Virginia that he felt Kerry could compete, saying that the "advantage" of being outside of the primary spending limits is that Kerry "can go out and raise money."
Kerry started the day in Memphis at Barksdale Restaurant, shaking hands with the patrons, and then headed to a polling place in another part of the city.
He was greeted there by around 50 supporters (and 10 or so Clark supporters), who held signs and chanted while Kerry's Tennessee escort and state steering committee chairman Rep. Harold Ford Jr. went inside to cast his vote.
"Hopefully Tennessee and Virginia will help us move on to a great fight here in the next days," Kerry said. "We've got a lot of work to do. So keep on keeping on. All right? God bless."
Upon landing in northern Virginia, Kerry was peppered with questions about President Bush's service in the National Guard. "It's not an issue that I have chosen to create," he responded. "It's not my record that's at issue. So I don't have any questions."
Before the polls closed, Kerry visited a polling station at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax Station, Va., where over 200 people turned out to cheer him.
Kerry takes Wednesday and Thursday off from the campaign trail, spending those days in Washington, D.C. Then it's off to Wisconsin on Friday morning, Las Vegas on Friday night for Nevada's Saturday caucuses, and back to Wisconsin.
Endorsement watch: Three Wisconsin members of Congress backed Kerry in advance of next Tuesday's primary: Sen. Herb Kohl and Reps. David Obey and Ron Kind. Also endorsing Kerry on Tuesday were Rep. Adam Schiff of California and the Building and Construction Trades Department union. Kerry is also waiting on endorsements from the Teamsters and the Alliance for Economic Justice, which are expected soon.
FORMER VERMONT GOV. HOWARD DEAN
Sun. Feb. 8: Maine, in a word, is different.
With 24 delegates to divvy up among the Democratic contenders, Maine is another one of those caucus states. The difference in Maine is that candidates can actually enter the caucus halls themselves and speak directly to voters.
Howard Dean, trying to create some sort of momentum going into his do-or-die state of Wisconsin, spent the day hitting seven caucus sights. Beginning in Bangor, where Dean addressed a crowd of about 100 supporters willing to brave the outdoor temperatures of "Why didn't I wear a hat," Dean continued on to a firehouse in Oakland, high schools in Waterville and Lewiston, a middle school in Auburn, and so on and so forth.
Caucus attendance varied from just a couple dozen people in places like Oakland to well over 1,200 enthusiastic voters in Portland. In each venue, Dean had the opportunity to make a brief appeal for support. One advantage to the system in Maine was no need for the candidate to urge those in the audience to get out to vote. Everyone in the room was there for just that - which made the process extremely efficient.
Dean tried out a new approach to what he hopes will be perceived as a one-on-one duel with Senator Kerry. The governor asked his audiences how it would look for President Bush to turn to his opponent in the general election and ask: you supported me on the war, you supported me on No Child Left Behind, and you supported me on some of the tax cuts... why not support me now for president?
Dean is trying to distinguish himself as a more stark alternative to George Bush and perhaps a more electable Democrat than John Kerry.
In other Dean news: his press corps received a true Maine treat thanks to some seriously persistent whining. The group of journos tired of stale breakfast buffets, turkey sandwiches, and airplane food received 25 authentic Maine lobster rolls aboard the flight out of Maine en route to Wisconsin.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
Sat. Feb. 7: On a day that Edwards' main rival John Kerry is hoping to do well in the Michigan and Washington primaries, Senator Edwards spent his day jetting from Tennessee to Wisconsin to Virginia. Since he decided to skip Washington and not focus on Michigan, he's now putting all of his efforts into the February 10th and 17th primary states (Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin).
A critical component of Edwards' campaign is that he can do well in the South. Last week he proved that he could win his home state of South Carolina, but with the primaries moving to Virginia and Tennessee, Edwards is not as confident that he will have the same results as S.C. In fact, at a press avail earlier today, Edwards said that this is a long term process and they need to be competitive and place in the top two (but not that he necessarily has to win). He said that this is a war of attrition and they are narrowing the field down to two.
Edwards began his morning at the University of Memphis. As the crowd waited for him to arrive, they were playing the Beatles, Bill Withers and Marc Cohn ("Walking in Memphis"). There was also an Elvis impersonator that was trying to attract a lot of attention, but much to his dismay, the focus this morning was on Edwards and not Elvis.
While the campaign has moved from city-to-city/state-to-state, the stump has more or less remained the same, with the exception of a few tweaks here and there.
For instance, today he talked a little more about health care in Tennessee than he normally does, and he criticized Bush for not having his own proposal for what he'd do about this issue. "Bush leads a sheltered existence and needs to be out in the real world doing what I am doing," said Edwards.
Furthermore, Edwards usually ends his stop by mentioning all of the petty attacks by the other candidates. He constantly says, "If you are looking for the presidential candidate that can do the best job sniping at the other candidates, then you have lots of other choices. That's not me."
Along those lines, this morning he added that the attacks have been as recent as yesterday and voters will continue to hear them. What Edwards was referring to were the attacks by Clark about Edwards' record on support for veterans. He was asked about it again today and Edwards said that he will continue to focus on his positive message.
As for his rivals, Edwards is also asked repeatedly if he plans to attack Kerry. Edwards response is that he will continue to campaign the same way that he has been doing all along - outlining a positive vision for America.
However, he did say that he'd point out the distinctions between his rivals, particularly Kerry and himself. It seems like the media and political analysts are desperately waiting (and in some ways hoping) for him to go negative, but so far he has not strayed far from his original optimistic course of action.
After Virginia and Tennessee, the next big state is Wisconsin. While many of the pundits are characterizing it as a must-win state for one of the candidates, Edwards says that this is also part of the nominating process and not one single state is the end-all be-all. He already has ads up in Wisconsin and plans to put up a big fight there. He says that Wisconsin is "wide open" and he thinks that in the next 10 days more people will begin focusing on the state.
Edwards anticipates that the same thing that happened in other states (I assume he means Iowa in particular), will happen in Wisconsin and the momentum will become even stronger after Tennessee and Virginia (especially if he does well in the Feb. 10th states).
At a stop in Milwaukee this afternoon, Edwards was greeted by hundreds of members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), a union of 500,000 members nationwide that have endorsed him.
Edwards reminded the crowd that the union stood by him when he ran for the Senate in 1998 and because of them he was able to defeat the Jesse Helms political machine and now he's the senior Senator from North Carolina. He also told the union members that his mother and brother were part of unions and because of that they were able to get health insurance. A common message for Edwards is to remind people that he is one of them and that he understands what they are going through.
Even if Edwards does not win any of these three states, he'll still continue to fight for the nomination. There are several big primaries on March 2nd, and so long as the Edwards camp has enough money (which they keep saying they are in the best financial shape they've ever been in), it seems like he will fight til the very end.
For now, the strategy is to do well in Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin and to dwindle it down to a two-man race between Kerry and Edwards. Then the real showdown will begin.
REV. AL SHARPTON
Wed. Feb. 4: Months of campaigning yielded just 10 percent of the vote and zero delegates, which makes it hard for the reverend to claim even a moral victory from Tuesday's South Carolina primary. A token delegate was won in Delaware guaranteeing Sharpton a seat at the table at the Boston convention.
But as Sharpton said to CBS News' Byron Pitts this morning, he will be going to the convention even if he has to put on his old jogging suit and "walk from Brooklyn to Boston." He is determined to have his issues heard.
And while he wanted to gain at least a delegate in South Carolina he was still pleased in his own special way.
"If I had told you when you had come on the road with us that I would double Howard Dean and triple Joe Lieberman in south Carolina you would say I'm on crack."
His critics are still vocal even amongst the African American community.
"It has to go beyond symbolic they have to raise an organization," said Kevin Gray, former South Carolina state director for Sharpton, wondering if the reverend's campaign has become more about Sharpton than his voters and their issues. "The leverage is having a network to deliver the black vote," said Gray.
Today's inside baseball story came from one of Sharpton's hometown paper's, the Village Voice. It detailed Sharpton's financial woes and his financial and political connections to Republican political operative Roger Stone. According to the FEC, Sharpton is close to $350,000 in debt. When I asked about the true relationship between the strange bedfellows, Sharpton's campaign manager, Charles Halloran, said, "I think they have respect for each other's skill sets."
But does Stone aid Sharpton in his attacks against his Democratic rivals such as Howard Dean? "If Roger could find some ants on an anthill to divide he'd be back there with a magnifying glass," said Halloran.
In a telling moment, five homeless men and women were hired to stand outside the Second Nazareth Baptist Church, a polling site in Columbia, to hold signs for Sharpton. They were paid $50 for ten to eleven hours of work – less than the minimum wage.
"He could have given us more," said Angela Hair of the Hampton Street winter shelter.
I'm not so sure Angela.
Sharpton flies to Detroit tomorrow morning.
Sen. JOE LIEBERMAN, D-Conn.
Tues. Feb. 3: Speaking to a crowd of family, friends and supporters at the Hyatt's Senate Ballroom in Arlington, Va., the senator finally accepted defeat, "I will respect the voters' verdict" and "end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America," he said.
But Joe Lieberman still managed to remain upbeat. "Am I disappointed? Naturally, but I'm proud of my message," he said, and he went on to reiterate that message, mainly that only a centrist candidate could win the Democratic nomination and go on to beat President Bush.
Lieberman vowed to continue the fight for values and bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate and thanked the people of Connecticut for their abiding support and encouragement.
Looking at his wife Hadassah, his mother Marcia, sister Ellen and all of his kids gathered round him on the American flag-draped stage, the Senator said he felt like a winner, "Everyday when I wake up in the morning I praise God for allowing me to serve the in the Senate and for the great family and friends that I have."
As the crowd cheered "Let's go Joe" for the very last time, the senator stepped off the stage, hugged a few supporters, declined all media interview requests and slipped out a back door.
His staff and spokespersons milled about. All were in agreement that they were OK because the Senator was OK. Deputy campaign director Brian Hardwick told me "I feel really proud of the campaign that we ran. It was honest and full of integrity until the end. We didn't get ugly or snippy."
Spokesman Jano Cabrera quipped, "Everyone's real proud of Lieberman. He engenders the kind of loyalty that you don't see with other politicians."
Loyalty, indeed. Not one of these guys would intimate just when the death toll began to toll, nor would they throw out a guess as to why the Lieberman campaign never really gathered too much momentum or enthusiasm from voters.
Before he addressed supporters, Joseph I. Lieberman called both Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards to offer his congratulations. In his speech to supporters, Lieberman promised to throw his support behind whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
"The most important thing is that we deny Bush a second term," he said. Just who will do that denying remains to be seen.