SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.
Fri. Feb. 13: Talk about contrasts: Friday the 13th began with a four star general in the frozen tundra and ended with a mariachi band in the shadow of Las Vegas' gambling strip.
After two days off the campaign trail and a Friday morning interview on the Don Imus radio program where Kerry said he's ready for an onslaught of GOP attacks ("I've been pretty well vetted and examined from one side to the other and I think that they're in for a surprise -- you know I'm going to fight back") Kerry flew to chilly Madison, Wisconsin to receive his latest endorsement.
Two days after he dropped out of the race, former Kerry opponent Gen. Wesley Clark threw his support behind the Massachusetts senator, asking the former Navy lieutenant for "permission to come aboard." Kerry responded: "That's the first time in my life I've ever had the privilege to say 'Welcome aboard' to a four star general."
The compliments and praise were flying between the two only days after Clark had spent the final weeks of his campaign criticizing Kerry.
The candidate then attended a forum organized by Gov. Jim Doyle, D-Wisc. (no endorsement) where he spoke to voters and answered questions from pre-selected group of folks.
It was westward ho, on to Las Vegas where Kerry, continuing his streak of visiting all the primary and caucus states, campaigned in advance of Saturday's Nevada caucuses. Upon landing and being shuttled past the casinos that the traveling press and campaign staff were sure to lose their shirts at later, the caravan arrived at Las Vegas' Valley High School to be greeted by over two thousand in a standing room only gym, as well as live mariachi music.
Kerry, who would not be partaking in the night's debauchery following the event, gave his standard stump speech to the wildly enthusiastic crowd that repeatedly chanted "No more Bush."
"I know you can bet on a lot of things here in Las Vegas," Kerry said. "But one thing I'd advise you not to bet on is the Bush economic plan."
Throughout the day, Kerry avoided holding a press conference and, therefore, he didn't have the opportunity to react to President Bush releasing his military records. Kerry, in recent days, has dodged taking Mr. Bush to task on the issue, simply saying he has no questions about it. He also hasn't responded on camera to a new ad that's running on the Bush-Cheney re-election Web site that accuses Kerry of being "unprincipled" regarding his ties to special interests.
On Saturday, Kerry was to greet voters at a caucus site in Vegas before heading back to Wisconsin, where he will campaign through Tuesday's primary there.
In other "news," Kerry mentioned earlier in the day that on one of his down days, he spent some time buying an undisclosed Valentine's Day gift for his wife Teresa. They exchanged their gifts Thursday and when he was asked what she got for him, he said, "I don't think you want to know," to which reporters responded, "Now we really want to know." He didn't spill the beans.
Endorsement watch: Kerry is poised to receive the endorsements of the Teamsters Union and the AFL-CIO next week. In addition, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., endorsed Kerry in Vegas on Friday and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., announced her endorsement in a statement.
FORMER VERMONT GOV. HOWARD DEAN
Wed. Feb. 11: After receiving the endorsement of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Howard Dean blasted Sen. John Kerry in a variety of ways.
Referring to a slip in an earlier press conference where Dean mistakenly referred to Sen. Kerry as "President Kerry," the onetime Democratic front-runner told CBS News, "I was actually thinking of President Bush. But President Bush and President Kerry seem to be - or Senator Kerry - seem to be so similar right now I'm getting the two of them confused."
Dean also told CBS News he prefers another one of his rivals to Kerry. "I think that Sen. Kerry has an enormous advantage," he said of Kerry's momentum and the frontloaded primary schedule. "My fear is that he won't be the strongest Democratic candidate. I've actually said on the record that I think Sen. Edwards would be a stronger candidate against George Bush than Sen. Kerry because when Sen. Kerry's record is examined by the public at a more leisurely time when we're not having primaries every week, he's going to turn out be just like George Bush."
Asked if he had intentions of dropping out of the race and throwing support to Sen. Edwards, Dean said, "No, I'm not considering doing that."
Some of the staff in Burlington, Vt., however, feel that if John Edwards had emerged as the front-runner instead of John Kerry, Dean would have left the race by now. There are those on the governor's staff who believe part of Dean's determination to stay in the race is because of a particular disdain for Kerry.
Dean, for his part, offers mixed messages when he speaks about the future of his campaign. He acknowledges that he indicated at one point he would leave the race if he did not win Wisconsin. Now he says he will go on to Super Tuesday regardless of the outcome of the Wisconsin primary on Feb. 17. But then at other times, he speaks about his run for the presidency as if it were already over.
"After this primary is over I'm going to consult with our supporters about what to do next," he said on Wednesday. "We'll put out e-mails to all 700,000 people on our list and get their opinions about how to keep this alive. I want to change this country. I want to change this party."
Just how Dean plans to do all that remains to be seen. His former campaign manager Joe Trippi has started a new Weblog called "ChangeforAmerica." While the site links to the Dean for America home page, there is no indication whether or not Dean would be involved in Trippi's effort to remain "in the fight" should the campaign end. Some of Dean's staff believe that if their candidate is to have any future role in American politics, he needs to engineer a graceful exit from the race. They don't know how he plans to do it, and while they'd still like to see Dean go on to become the nominee, staffers in Burlington are starting to look for new jobs.
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 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.