Kerry Declares Victory After Illinois Primary

Kerry now has 2,252 delegates, surpassing the 2,162 needed to clinch the nomination at this summer’s convention.

“Tonight, Illinois has put us over the top in the delegate count for the nomination,” Kerry said Tuesday at a rally in Charleston, W.Va. “This night marks the opening of the general election and a great debate about the direction of our country.”

The announcement was a formality as he and Republican opponent, President Bush, have already begun sparring in the media and on the campaign trail in preparation for the election in November.

The Bush campaign aired a television ad in West Virginia claiming Kerry voted against an $87 billion package to pay for the conflict in Iraq, including body armor for troops, higher combat pay and better health care for reservists, Reuters reported.

Kerry responded that his vote had nothing to do with U.S. troops not having the proper equipment and body armor in Iraq, but that he voted for an amendment that would have allotted the $87 billion by repealing tax cuts for the most wealthy Americans.

President Bush carried West Virginia, once considered reliably Democratic in presidential elections, by 6 percentage points in 2000. Experts say the state will likely be another battleground in the upcoming election.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, said Kerry should divulge the names of foreign leaders he said were supporting his campaign. The president told reporters at a photo opportunity that Kerry should back up his claims.

Kerry has refused to reveal the names and has contended that Republicans have been trying to keep the controversy alive to divert attention from their record.

The Massachusetts senator did comment on the pledge from Spain’s upcoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to withdraw his country’s troops from Iraq. A series of bomb blasts on trains in Madrid rigged just before Sunday’s elections in Spain is thought to have tipped the scales in favor of Zapatero’s anti-U.S. party. A group associated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 200, saying they were in response to Spain’s support of the U.S.-led war.

“In my judgement, the new prime minister should not have decided he was going to pull out of Iraq; he should have said this, ‘this increases our determination to get the job done,'” Kerry said in an interview on a Phoenix television station.