Senator John Kerry’s sweeping victory in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2 knocked North Carolina Senator John Edwards out of the race for the Democratic nomination and ensured that the Massachusetts Senator will face President Bush in November.
In New York, a much-anticipated primary turned out to be a dud, as Senator Edwards threw time and money into the wind upstate, only to see the few voters who turned up at the polls pull the lever for Mr. Kerry. The Reverend Al Sharpton bombed in his home state and elsewhere, while another native New Yorker, Howard Dean, salvaged a measure of honor when his campaign took a convincing posthumous victory in his adopted state of Vermont.
“Tonight the message could not be clearer all across our country: Change is coming to America,” Senator Kerry declared in his victory statement. Turning his campaign fully to face President Bush, he warned of “powerful forces that want America to continue on its present path,” but pledged that “we are equal to the task” of defeating the President.
Mr. Kerry was leading in nine of the 10 states with primaries. In Ohio, considered a crucial state in the November general election, Mr. Kerry had more than half of all the votes with more than a third of the votes counted.
Mr. Kerry was winning New York handily in the early returns, with about three times as many votes as Mr. Edwards. Mr. Sharpton lingered in the single digits.
Mr. Edwards was expected formally to concede on March 3, but he praised Mr. Kerry on primary night, calling him an “extraordinary advocate for jobs, better health care, a safer world.”
Mr. Edwards, who referred to his own campaign as “the little engine that could,” surprised many observers by taking his campaign to New York City and to the depressed industrial areas of upstate New York in the days after his relatively close finish in the Wisconsin primary. In hindsight, some regard that tactic as a mistake.
“He squandered a great deal of resources, in terms of time and money, in New York,” said Democratic consultant Micah Lasher. “If you take the amount of time and money he spent in New York and take it to Georgia or another small state, it could have made a difference.”
But the chairman of Mr. Edwards’ New York campaign, City Councilman Bill de Blasio, defended the campaign’s decision.
“We got a great response there, and the issues resonate,” he said, noting that upstate New York had the added benefit that “we could afford television advertising there.”
Mr. de Blasio blamed the accelerated primary schedule, under which 29 states have voted since Jan. 19, for Mr. Edwards’ failure, finally, to catch on.
“This calendar certainly favored whoever got early momentum,” he said. “The resource demands it puts on a campaign are almost impossible.”
What About Al?
Among New York’s insular political class, however, much of the talk was of Mr. Sharpton, who voted in the morning predicting that he would pick up “even more delegates.”
“I have a feeling his political day is past,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of political affairs at Baruch College, who suggested that Mr. Sharpton host a talk show on cable television.
But others warned not to count Mr. Sharpton out.
“He will come back, reinvent himself, and he will still be the mayor of New York’s underclass,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant. “There will be a shooting, a riot, and Sharpton will position himself again.”
Meanwhile, Senator Kerry’s New York headquarters was an oasis of satisfaction as Super Tuesday’s votes were being cast. The deputy press secretary, Eric Schultz, had flown to Florida on primary day, and press secretary Mark Kornblau had tickets for an American Airlines flight on Wednesday morning. The campaign’s New York chairman, Dennis Mehiel, swung cheerfully through in a black leather jacket, ticking off the races that had been lost out of his office on Park Avenue South-most recently his and H. Carl McCall’s bids for Lieutenant Governor and Governor in 2002.
“Fourth time’s the charm,” he said.
Mr. Mehiel, former Public Advocate Mark Green and a small handful of elected officials were the few among New York’s political class who picked the right horse this year, although the rest of the establishment has rallied around Mr. Kerry now that he has emerged as the nominee.
Among the serial losers was Eric Schmelzer, Governor Dean’s ebullient New York press secretary, who created a group called “Deaniacs for Edwards” in the wake of the Vermont doctor’s withdrawal from the race.
“Now I’m going to start ‘Deaniacs for Sharpton,’” he joked Tuesday night, on his way to a club to hear a band called the Boxes. “Anyone that’s left, man, you’ve just got to keep going. ‘Deaniacs for Kucinich,’ ‘Deaniacs for LaRouche’…. “