Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry scored victories east and west Saturday, swamping his rivals in Nevada and the District of Columbia caucuses to build his advantage in delegates needed for the nomination. His opponents pinned their hopes on the coming Wisconsin primary to try to slow him down.
Kerry, the only candidate to campaign in Nevada, easily outdistanced Howard Dean in second place, for a Valentine's Day win that unexpectedly drew thousands of people to the party's meetings and surprised officials who saw far less enthusiasm four years ago.
Kerry also more than doubled his nearest opponent, Al Sharpton, in the D.C. race.
The rout kept Kerry's head of steam going as the candidates battled for the Wisconsin primary Tuesday. The Democrats met in Milwaukee for a Saturday night party fund-raising dinner -- skipped by Dean, who made a quick trip home to Vermont for his son's hockey game -- and a debate today.
"These results show that our campaign is uniting Americans from different parts of our country and walks of life in a common purpose," Kerry said in a statement of thanks to voters in Washington, D.C.
And in thanking Nevadans, too, for their "lovely valentine," Kerry promised anew to take the fight to President Bush. "I promise you that when the Republican smear machine trots out the same old attacks in this election, this is one Democrat who will fight back," he said.
"I've fought for my country my entire life, and I'm not about to back down now."
The Wisconsin race might be the last stand for Dean, the one-time presumptive favorite winless in the string of 2004 contests. John Edwards, who won in his native South Carolina, spoke of his determination to press on into March.
"I'm completely committed to this race," Edwards said after speaking to hundreds of supporters in a Madison, Wis., ballroom. "I think this process is too fluid to set any kind of arbitrary deadlines" for getting out.
With almost all precincts reporting in Nevada, Kerry had about 63 percent of the vote, with Dean at 17 percent, Edwards at 10 percent and Dennis Kucinich at 7 percent.
Across the country, the full results in the D.C. caucuses showed Kerry with 47 percent; Sharpton, 20 percent; Dean, 17 percent; Edwards, 10 percent; and Kucinich, 3 percent.
Dean prevailed in a D.C. vote last month, before his fortunes sank, but the primary was held to protest the district's lack of voting representation in Congress and did not count.