Kerry Pulls Ahead in Michigan; Dean Bets Campaign on Wisconsin

Campaigning in Maine where voters caucus on Sunday, he told supporters, “I’m here to mark with you the beginning of the end of the Bush administration.”

In the largest prize of the primary season thus far, Kerry has taken a huge lead in Michigan, according to public opinion polls released Thursday.

Kerry, who as a senator has often battled the auto industry over fuel standards and other issues, has picked up steam following victories in Iowa, New Hampshire and five of seven states on Feb. 3.

“The bandwagon effect is having a big impact on where [Democrats] are going,” Steve Mitchell, chief executive of the polling firm Mitchell Research & Communications Inc., told Reuters. “No one has been pointing out the fact that Kerry’s stand on [fuel economy standards] would be very damaging to the Michigan economy.”

Instead of critiquing his past stands, Kerry has racked up the endorsement of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and opened a 37-point lead according to the latest MSNBC/Reuters Zogby tracking poll.

The other contest Saturday could pose more of a challenge to the Kerry operation. In Washington state, some hope the caucuses will slow the Massachusetts senator’s momentum.

“We’re known for our edgy liberalism,” state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt, who backs former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, told the Associated Press. “Washington loves the maverick.”

Although there are no polls coming out of Washington or Maine, news reports indicated that Kerry should win both states comfortably.

As Kerry’s campaign moves from contest to contest, Dean announced his campaign would focus on the Wisconsin primary on Feb. 17.

In an e-mail appeal sent out to his supporters Thursday morning, Dean laid his candidacy on the line.

“All that you have worked for these past months is on the line on a single day, in a single state,” he wrote. “The entire race has come down to this: We must win Wisconsin. … We will get a boost this weekend in Washington, Michigan and Maine, but our true test will be the Wisconsin primary. A win there will carry us to the big states of March 2 and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything less will put us out of this race.”

To help win the Badger State, Dean asked his supporters to donate more money so he could purchase advertising in Wisconsin.

According to the campaign, the response was immediate. Within hours of Dean’s plea, the campaign had received more than $150,000 and was averaging more than $50,000 an hour.

Dean campaign officials said the donations were prompted by renewed interest in Dean’s image as an outsider. His message of wanting to change the nation and the political system is one he hopes will resonate with populist Democrats in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin has the power now. Wisconsin has a choice between a leader with the courage to ask the tough questions, and the toughness to get things done and a Washington politician of caution and convenience,” the campaign’s chief Roy Neel said in a statement Thursday.

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark continued to focus his campaign efforts on Virginia and Tennessee, two states that vote Tuesday.

Stumping in Tennessee, Clark took aim at Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, whom he narrowly defeated in Oklahoma.

“They’ve spent months on the campaign trail criticizing George W. Bush and his reckless policies, when, in the 107th Congress, both men voted with the president almost 70 percent of the time,” Clark said.

“Now, I’m no politician, but that doesn’t seem to add up,” he said. “I don’t believe you can have it both ways. I don’t think you can stand with Bush one day and then against him once you decide to run for president.”

The Edwards campaign, also stumping in Virginia and Tennessee, dismissed Clark’s attack, calling the move desperate.

“Wesley Clark is doing what desperate politicians do when they are losing ground — resorting to misleading negative political attacks,” Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told Reuters.

The Kerry campaign, commenting on its opponents’ efforts to derail the front-runner in specific states, told its supporters that the senator was fighting for every delegate.

“Some candidates will skip states with contests in the next few weeks. John Kerry will fight for every vote, every delegate, in every state,” Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill wrote in an e-mail to supporters.

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