By Billy Corriher
Forty-two days after John Kerry upset front-runner Howard Dean in the Iowa caucuses, confounding earlier pollsters, he swept to victory in eight of 10 Super Tuesday primaries. Kerry's victories forced Edwards, his last major contender for the Democratic nomination, out of the race and his victory speech took direct aim at President Bush.
Edwards, born in neighboring South Carolina, spent a lot of time in Georgia campaigning and the close race here was the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal Tuesday for him.
John Kerry managed to narrowly win Georgia with 45 percent of the vote to Edwards' 43 percent, with 89 percent of the state's precincts reporting.
But the primary wasn't as close in Clayton County, where 56 percent of voters cast their ballots for Kerry and only 31 percent voted for Edwards. Rev. Al Sharpton managed just over nine percent of the vote in Clayton County and 6 percent statewide. More than 24 percent of the 114,802 registered voters turned out in the county, higher than the projected turnout in the rest of Georgia.
Edwards has scheduled a 4 p.m. announcement today in Raleigh to quit the race.
In a victory speech to supporters in Washington, Kerry repeatedly praised both Edwards and Dean and singled out former Georgia Senator and decorated Vietnam soldier Max Cleland for his help in the campaign. Cleland, who has said Bush did not learn the mistakes of Vietnam and is reliving them in Iraq, has rallied veterans to Kerry's side.
Edwards, a freshman North Carolina senator who barely competed in half the states, had targeted Georgia, Ohio and Minnesota for candidacy-saving victories.
Many Georgia voters, like others in the "Super Tuesday" states, said in exit polls that they voted for Kerry because they thought he was the best candidate to defeat President Bush.
Bernard Robinson of Jonesboro was one voter who said he supported Kerry because he would be the best candidate in November.
"He seems like the most qualified (Democratic) candidate," he said.
Robinson said he also liked Kerry's experience and his ideas for leading the country.
Georgia exit polls showed Kerry leading among blacks, low-income voters and Democrats in a primary open to all voters.
Riverdale resident Dwight Sanders, a member of a local teamsters union, said he also thinks Kerry has the best chance of beating Bush, and he likes the candidate's economic plans.
"Kerry's the leading candidate and I believe in some of the things he's saying," he said.
Before Tuesday's voting, Kerry had 701 delegates to Edwards' 205 delegates. More than half of the 2,162 delegates needed to secure the nomination were at stake on Tuesday, and Kerry now has a virtually insurmountable lead.
Kerry won more delegates with victories in Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as the delegate-rich California and New York primaries. Dean managed to win his home state of Vermont.
Even with a couple of victories and a better-than-expected showing in several other states, Edwards would have needed to win at least 70 percent of the pledged delegates between now and June ? and secure the support of uncommitted party leaders ? to overtake Kerry in the delegate chase.
Jonesboro resident Nancy Hootman said Tuesday that she hoped Edwards still had a chance to get the nomination.
Hootman said she voted for Edwards because he's an attractive candidate and would have a shot at beating Bush.
"I just like his personality," she said.
Voter turnout in Georgia was less than expected. The Secretary of State had predicted a turnout of about 1 million voters, about 26 percent. But state officials later said they doubted that turnout would crack 20 percent.
With the Democratic nominee decided, Bush's reelection campaign is already kicking off a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign on Thursday, and Vice President Dick Cheney already began attacking Kerry's voting record on defense and intelligence issues.
With the Democratic nomination secure, Kerry praised Edwards in his victory speech and began to focus his attention on attacking Bush, saying "come November, he will be out of the White House, not just out of touch."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.