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Deft touches needed as race goes national

Hidden in an office suite across from the South Carolina capital, a dozen John Kerry campaign workers sat quietly chatting and working at computers Tuesday afternoon. Their desks were tidy; the phones rang sporadically.

It seemed light years away from the hectic campaign presidential command centers of Iowa and New Hampshire. In a sense, it was.

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is no longer about slogging through county after county to win over Democrats a dozen at a time in Iowa and New Hampshire. The contest is now national, and it will require some tough decisions by those contenders New Hampshire voters left standing Tuesday.

No one has a moment to rest after grueling campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire. Come Tuesday, seven more states will weigh in on the Democratic nomination: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Combined, those states account for more than 10 percent of the 2,162 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. They will go a long way toward determining whether Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, maintains a steady March to the nomination or whether a protracted battle looms that could leave the nomination in doubt by the time Florida holds its primary March 9.

"It's a very different campaign now," said Anita Dunn, a Democratic consultant who worked for Bill Bradley in 2000. "You're going to have two different measures of success Feb. 3 _ overall delegate totals and wins."

That's because candidates can pick up delegates without winning any states outright. Because these are not winner-take-all contests, delegates are divided up among the candidates according to how they place.

Missouri has 74 delegates at stake _ the most of the seven contests _ and appears to be wide open after Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt dropped out of the race after his fourth-place finish in Iowa. South Carolina has 45 delegates in play, but as the first Southern state, it is widely seen as crucial to demonstrate broad appeal.

As the overwhelming front-runner with back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Kerry has the luxury of concentrating on adding to his delegate count. His rivals need to show next week they can win somewhere.

"On the morning of Feb. 4, if you haven't won one of the first nine states, you've got to look at your candidacy," said Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who designed the compressed primary calendar in hopes of coming up with an early nominee for the party to unite behind to take on President Bush.

But with limited time and money, the campaigns must decide what states to focus on in the coming week. Kerry has spent little time over the past year campaigning outside of Iowa and New Hampshire. On Wednesday, he heads to Missouri and then to South Carolina.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is expected mainly to target New Mexico and Arizona, where he has built strong organizations. Edwards has declared his native state of South Carolina a must-win, but former Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas is competing hard there and in Oklahoma.

History is against Clark and Edwards. No one has won his party's nomination after finishing worse than second in New Hampshire.

What's more, since 1976 every Democratic and Republican candidate who has swept Iowa and New Hampshire has won his party's nomination.

But in a race where just a month ago Dean looked like a near shoo-in and Kerry looked like a longshot, predictability from here on out is far from a sure thing.

_ Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or adamsptimes.com.

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