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Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. is poised for the Democratic presidential nomination thanks to resounding victories from coast to coast in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries, including a 50-plus point victory in Massachusetts.
On campus, members of the Harvard College Democrats applauded the news and said they would rally behind the candidate whose chief rival, Sen. John R. Edwards, D-N.C., is expected to announce that he will drop out of the race today.
“It looks like we have a nominee,” College Dems President Andy J. Frank ’05 told the group of students gathered in the Quincy House Junior Common Room last night to watch the returns.
“We’re united now,” Frank told the group.
Nicholas F.B. Smyth ’05, the president of Harvard Students for Kerry, said that after 14 months of hard work for the campaign, he was excited to see his candidate seal up the nomination.
“This is like every political junkie’s dream come true,” said a wired if tired Smyth.
He said the group would now turn their attention to the general elections, where he expects President George W. Bush to make national security a key issue as he runs on a “campaign of fear.”
“Kerry has shown people, and he’ll continue to show people, that he’s the one to trust if you’re scared,” he said.
Edwards supporters were sad to reach the end of the road for their candidate, but pledged to work with Kerry.
“There’s a little bit of disappointment, but there are bigger issues to address and still much work to be done,” said Brittani S. Head ’06, president of Students For Edwards. “At least a senator named John got it.”
Head said she would be asking all the members of her group to “throw their full support” behind the Democratic nominee.
Kerry, who had been surfing the wave of early victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, won easily in his home state of Massachusetts yesterday with over 70 percent of the vote.
He also snapped up delegates from California, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Minnesota—all of which he took in double-digit victories.
Kerry won by a close margin in Georgia, which had been considered a must-win for Edwards.
The only Super Tuesday state that Kerry did not take was Vermont, where voters supported their former governor, Howard B. Dean, by a wide margin. Dean dropped out of the race last month after generating early buzz but failing to win any of the previous state contests.
After going winless yesterday, Edwards did not concede the race in his speech to supporters last night, but two Democratic officials told the Associated Press that Edwards will announce today that he is dropping out of the race.
Several Edwards backers said the tight calendar of the primaries hurt their candidate, because it allowed Kerry to build momentum and emerge as the frontrunner.
Assistant Professor of Government William G. Howell agreed that Kerry’s momentum was a factor.
“It’s really difficult to overcome no matter who you are,” he said. “When you are Edwards, who is affable and quite attractive, but is a first-term senator and doesn’t have the money or the organization to mount a counter-offensive, it becomes quite difficult.”
Frank, who supported Edwards in the primaries, said after the College Dems’ meeting that Kerry’s string of victories meant the electoral math was stacked against Edwards.
“I think Edwards is going out at the right time,” he said. “It’s the classy thing to do to bow out...so Kerry can start spending his resources on Bush.”
Many of Kerry’s backers pointed to their candidate’s ability to beat the incumbent president as a key reason for their support.
“Kerry is eminently electable,” said Evan W. Hudson ’04, who cast his ballot yesterday at the polling station in the foyer of Quincy House. “The more moderate candidate always wins.”
“I think that what we are seeing right now is a more passionate Democratic electorate than we have seen in decades,” said Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy Alexander Keyssar of the Kennedy School of Government. “The passion isn’t a pro-Kerry passion, particularly. It’s an anti-Bush passion.”
He said he thought this was because “the Bush administration has appeared particularly reckless and frequently dishonest.”
In addition to his perceived electability, supporters said Kerry’s experience—especially in the area of foreign policy—and his stature in the Democratic party made him stand out above the other candidates.
According to Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, represents a “war hero to oppose a war president in Bush.”
“Although [Democrats are] not serious about the war, they want to impress people who might be,” Mansfield said.
As the College Dems prepare to unite behind Kerry, the Harvard Republican Club plans to campaign for Bush in Massachusetts and nearby states, according to spokesperson Lauren K. Truesdell ’06, who said the group hoped the Institute of Politics would fund a trip to swing states such as Pennsylvania or Florida.
She said the campaign would “focus on successes in the war on terror.”
“The economy will also be an issue, with the Bush tax cuts and the current economic upturn being helpful to the president,” Truesdell added.
Josh M. Mendelsohn ’05, the chair of Harvard Students for Bush, said he was confident that voters would look at the two candidates’ records carefully and, in the end, choose Bush.
“I think when voters go to the polls in November, they’re going to recognize that their options are between a leader who’s proven his service as a leader over the past four years and a man who had his chance in the Senate and supported a series of poor policies that threatened the nation,” said Mendelsohn, who is also the chair of Massachusetts Students for Bush.
Keyssar predicted it will be “an incredibly nasty campaign.”
He said Kerry’s key to victory would be to bring new voters to the polls, just as Dean tried to do before dropping out of the race.
“If he can increase turnout by 5 percent, he’ll win,” Keyssar said.
With Kerry emerging as the Democratic nominee, speculation now centers on who he will choose as his running mate.
Edwards has long been rumored to be a possibility, and Head said she thought he would make a good choice, especially since he’s not running for reelection to the Senate.
“He’s kind of jobless, so I guess he’s got to do something for the next four years,” she joked.
According to Howell, the choice of a vice president is often a matter of geography, as presidential candidates look for running mates from states where they need a boost in votes.
He pointed to how John F. Kennedy ’40 chose Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow senator from Texas.
“Kerry might want to replicate this,” Howell said. “Edwards is from the South, and it’s important to make some inroads there.”
Another issue worth considering, Howell said, is how Kerry will use his time between now and the November elections, once the end of the primary season takes him out of the day-to-day media spotlight.
“Because he’s won early, his ability to dominate the news is going to slip, and you’ve got to give the edge to Bush in the coming months to start making a comeback both in defining Kerry, his opponent, and also defining his own presidency,” Howell said.
—Claire Provost contributed to the reporting of this story. Material from the Associated Press was also used.
—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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