The Tuesday contest has the potential to give front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts an overwhelming lead or to lend strength to the campaign of his main rival, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Public opinion polls show Kerry with comfortable leads in most of the Super Tuesday states.
During a Sunday debate Edwards continued his effort to draw distinctions between himself and Kerry.
“The fundamental issue in this election is whether the people of this country believe that we’re going to get change that originates in Washington or change that has to come from out here in the real world,” Edwards said.
When Edwards had the opportunity to question Kerry he asked, “Do you believe we’re going to change this country out of Washington, D.C.?”
Kerry responded by touting his experience working in the capital.
“Yes, because that’s where the Congress of the United States is, and that’s where 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is. And the answer is, we’re going to need a president who has the experience and the proven ability — proven ability — to be able to stand up and take on tough fights,” Kerry said. “Now, I just listened to John talk about Washington, D.C. Last time I looked, John ran for the United States Senate, and he’s been in the Senate for the last five years. That seems to me to be Washington, D.C.”
Kerry and Edwards also sparred over Kerry’s economic plan.
“[S]enator Kerry has consistently said that he can pay for all the things that he’s proposing and substantially reduce the deficit, I think I’ve heard him say cut it in half, in his first term,” Edwards said. “Well, The Washington Post today just analyzed his proposals, and it’s the same old thing. Here we go again. In fact, in fact, he overspends, in terms of being able to pay for all of his proposals, he overspends by $165 billion in his first term, which means he would drive us deeper and deeper into deficit.”
Edwards added that Kerry was engaging in “the same old Washington talk that people have been listening to for decades.”
Kerry responded with a defense of his economic plan.
“I think John [Edwards] would have learned by now not to believe everything he reads in a newspaper,” Kerry said. “And he should do his homework, because the fact is that what’s printed in The Washington Post today is inaccurate.”
Kerry said that the newspaper had miscalculated in its analysis of his plan.
Although many political observers say Edwards needs to win some states in order to remain a viable candidate, Edwards said Sunday that he would remain in the race no matter Tuesday’s outcome, “because the American people deserve this choice,” he said.
Edwards won the South Carolina primary and ran a close second to Kerry in Wisconsin, but has been unable to overcome Kerry’s momentum elsewhere.
Kerry, meanwhile has racked up 18 wins in 20 primary elections and is widely seen as the Democratic Party’s likely nominee.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York are considered longshots to win any of the remaining primary elections.
In Sunday’s debate, Sharpton railed against the media and the debate’s moderators, including Dan Rather of CBS and Elizabeth Bumiller of The New York Times, for what he said was an attempt to limit the debate.
“If we’re going to have a discussion just between two — in your arrogance, you can try that, but that’s one of the reasons we’re going to have delegates, so that you can’t just limit the discussion,” Sharpton said. “And I think that your attempt to do this is blatant, and I’m going to call you out on it, because I’m not going to sit here and be window dressing.”
Sharpton added that the media “is trying to decide for the voters how we go forward. The voters need to hear this morning from four candidates, or say the media now is going to select candidates.”
For his part Rather said the reason for the focus on the top two candidates was that “the voters have spoken.” He further admonished Sharpton to focus on his fellow candidates. “Debate them, not me,” Rather said.
Edwards was scheduled to appear in Ohio and Georgia Tuesday, continuing a strategy of reaching out to rural and Southern voters. Kerry planned to campaign in Maryland, Ohio and Georgia.
Tuesday’s contests offer 1,151 delegate votes, which comprise 27 percent of the total available votes and more than half of the 2,162 needed to sew up the nomination. Kerry already has 686 votes going into Super Tuesday, while Edwards has 206. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has stopped actively campaigning, is third with 184 delegate votes.