Edwards takes final stand by shores of Erie

Democrats hail a future contender - but Bush creates problems for current front-runner Kerry
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The Independent US

In this raw city on the shores of Lake Erie - the biggest industrial centre of what is arguably America's most pivotal state politically - John Edwards is making his last stand in his seemingly doomed bid for the White House.

Last night, exuding cheer and charm as ever, the North Carolina senator addressed a rally in a Cleveland church hall, in a bid to win over the wavering voters of Ohio. If he fails, then almost certainly his quest will be over - in 2004 at least.

But whether he wins or loses in 48 hours' time, when Ohio and nine other states vote on so-called Super Tuesday, a new national political star has been born. He was a virtual unknown when he entered this presidential campaign. He will leave it as one of the brightest names in the Democratic firmament, one that will figure in every future presidential calculation by his party.

This time around, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts bestrides the field, having won 18 of the first 20 primaries and caucuses, amassing along the way 600-plus delegates to the nominating convention in his native Boston in the last week of July. Mr Edwards has fewer than 200.

Theoretically, the game is not over. In the 10 states which vote on Tuesday, including three massive prizes in California, New York of Ohio, 1,151 delegates are at stake - more than half the total needed to nominate. Mathematically, an Edwards surge could turn the contest on its head - but it almost certainly will not happen.

California and New York, if the polls are right, are in Mr Kerry's pocket, as are Maryland and the four New England states, including his native Massachusetts, that also vote on Tuesday. Which leaves three possibilities for Mr Edwards: Minnesota, Georgia, and the absolute must-win prize of Ohio.

Georgia is in the South, so an Edwards victory would mean little. Minnesota is a quirky northern state and too small to make a difference at this stage in proceedings.

But Ohio matters. It is big, with 140 delegates at stake. It is a quintessential swing state, without which no Republican has ever won the White House. Most important, as an old industrial powerhouse which has seen jobs haemorrhage to low-wage producers overseas, it is highly receptive to Mr Edwards's protectionist economic platform.

If his anti-trade, "two Americas" message resonates anywhere it is Ohio. The latest polls put him 20 points behind Mr Kerry. But Dennis White, Ohio's Democratic state chairman, warns: "The primary is wide open, the Kerry lead could disappear real fast."

A loss in Ohio on the other hand, could knock away the last prop of his campaign.

Even so, it might not be the end of election year 2004 for Mr Edwards. If their chummy non-aggression pact in Thursday's candidates' debate in Los Angeles is any indication, he must be among the favourites to be the Massachusetts senator's running mate in the autumn, and certainly for a senior job in a Kerry cabinet.

In short, if the Democrats win back the White House, a vice-President or, say, Attorney General John Edwards would be in pole position to become the party's standard- bearer once Mr Kerry departs the scene.

Even if Kerry loses - or asks someone else to join him - Mr Edwards would remain a potent force, along with Hillary Clinton the obvious front-runner for the nomination the next time it becomes available. Even in 2012, he would only be 58, older, wiser - and still two years younger than Mr Kerry today.

More than 7,000 gays marry within 17 days

By Andrew Gumbel in San Francisco

President Bush has called it a threat to "the most fundamental institution in civilisation". Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, has warned of bloodshed in the streets. But, for the moment, opponents of gay marriage cannot find a legal authority to break up the same-sex wedding party being celebrated in San Francisco and beyond.

The California state Supreme Court became the latest judicial body to duck out of a quick decision when it refused to issue an emergency injunction late on Friday. Hearing arguments from California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and representatives of the city of San Francisco, which has sanctioned more than 3,400 gay marriages in the past 17 days, the court merely ordered further briefs to be submitted by the end of this week. Several legal experts now believe the state Supreme Court will refuse to touch the issue until it has worked its way through the lower courts. This could take months, by which time gay newlyweds could number tens of thousands.

An ebullient Gavin Newsom, the youthful new mayor of San Francisco , said he felt more confident with every passing court decision. Four separate hearings in different venues have all concluded there are no grounds for immediate action.

The President has certainly turned the controversy into a powerful election-year "wedge issue", pushing his presumptive Democratic challenger John Kerry into a super-cautious series of position statements bordering on incoherence. But the President's initiative has also unleashed the fury of gay and lesbian groups, including some in his own Republican Party.

ELECTION DIARY

By Tom Carver

Don't believe what Americans say about being a classless society. This presidential race is a class struggle. Calling John Kerry a "Massachusetts liberal" is a way of describing him as posh without saying it. Hidden in the phrase are all the associations of New England privilege: prep schools, Ivy League, trust funds, country clubs.

"He's like a good wine. You know, it takes time to mature, and then it gets really good and you can sip it. I think he's at the stage now." When Teresa Heinz Kerry said that about her husband recently, the Republican National Committee leapt on it, emailing the quote to supporters and putting it on their website.

In "class-free" America such an innocuous comment is invaluable political ammo. It's a way of reminding people that the Kerrys have a large wine cellar in their Boston mansion. By contrast, the Republicans portray their man as a down home country boy who spends his leisure clearing brushwood.

George Bush can hardly claim to be working class (he was in the same secret club at Yale as Kerry), but to deny his privileged roots, he reinvented himself as a rugged Texan cowboy type.

At times, John Kerry shows signs of wanting to do the same. Whenever he does photo ops with workers he abandons his leather loafers, puts on factory boots and starts saying "hey man" a lot. But it's a risky strategy: George Bush has had an entire political career to practise masking his background. Better to keep showing those Vietnam pictures. That's a more effective way of blunting the effete liberal tag.

Talking of Vietnam, if you want to see how nasty things are getting, read the attack by the conservative commentator Ann Coulter on Max Cleland. The former Democratic Senator lost three of his four limbs in Vietnam and was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry.

But Coulter said that Cleland didn't suffer his injuries on the battlefield. "Cleland lost three limbs in an accident," she wrote in her column, "during a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends." She claimed that he would never have been a senator if it hadn't been for the fact that he's an amputee.

And here's an update on that snooping scandal on Capitol Hill. It turns out that the Republicans have had access to Democrats' confidential computer files for several years. Two staffers have now been dismissed and the Senate's sergeant-at-arms is due to deliver his report next week. The Republicans are calling it a "computer glitch". Ted Kennedy says it's a "break in". In this town's febrile atmosphere, I have no idea who to believe.

Tom Carver is Washington correspondent for BBC2's 'Newsnight'

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