Washington John Kerry scooped up key union endorsements Friday as presidential rivals criticized his nearly 20-year Senate record, calling the Democratic front-runner all-talk, no-action on affirmative action and health care.
"We're not going to beat George W. Bush with old-style, fudge-it-up politics," retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said as the seven-candidate field steamed toward a seven-state showdown Tuesday. Kerry's campaign said the criticism was a sign of desperation.
Polls showed the Massachusetts senator with a commanding lead in Missouri, Arizona and North Dakota -- states with 143 of the 269 delegates at stake.
Kerry was competitive in two other states, South Carolina and Oklahoma, and party strategists gave him the edge in New Mexico and Delaware.
Kerry hopes to knock Clark and Sen. John Edwards from the race Tuesday, then finish off a staggering Howard Dean four days later in Michigan and Washington state.
Dean, trying to salvage his campaign after losing to Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire, questioned his rival's Senate record.
"If Senator Kerry had accomplished anything in health care, he ought to be able to explain to the people of South Carolina how come there are so many uninsured kids here and there aren't any in my state," said the former Vermont governor.
He said Democrats need "a doer, not a talker" to beat President Bush in the fall.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Dean was in no position to point fingers.
"If Howard Dean wants to talk about records of accomplishment, then he has some explaining to do about balancing the Vermont budget on the backs of the poor, not taking action to better secure a nuclear power plant in the wake of Sept. 11 and throwing 400 family farms out of business," Cutter said.
Dean bristled at Kerry's suggestion that the former governor doesn't know enough about how Congress works.
"That's just Washington blather," he said.
In Washington, the Communications Workers of America, with 700,000 members, endorsed Kerry and Michigan's largest teachers union, the 157,000-member Michigan Education Assn., also gave its support. A third union, the Sheet Metal Workers International Assn., plans to announce its backing next week.
Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus also announced their endorsements Friday, with Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., backing Edwards and Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., supporting Kerry.
Bush cast his eyes warily on the race, planning a trip next Thursday to South Carolina. He campaigned in New Hampshire two days after the Granite State primary to counter Democratic criticism.
Kerry, Dean and four candidates addressed a forum on low-income and minority issues in South Carolina, where about half of voting Democrats are minorities.