Kerry looks unstoppable in battle for seven states

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John Kerry has taken a commanding lead in tomorrow's round of seven presidential primaries and caucuses, with victory all but assured in four of them and odds increasing that he might manage a clean sweep, the latest polls indicate.

Enjoying the bounce from his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, and basking in the growing perception that he is the Democrat most likely to beat George Bush in November, the Massachusetts senator is looking unstoppable in Missouri - by far the biggest state in play - Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota.

In South Carolina, he is locked in a tough contest with John Edwards, who has said he has to win in his birthplace state tomorrow to keep his hopes alive. Most polls are putting Mr Edwards ahead by 10 to 12 points, but the poll with the most consistent record so far, Zogby, suggests the gap may be no more than one or two points and closing. General Wesley Clark's strongest challenge is in Oklahoma, where he and Mr Kerry are in a dead heat. Joe Lieberman is pinning his hopes on Delaware, although Joseph Biden, the Delaware senator, said at the weekend that Mr Kerry's momentum would be hard to resist. Almost all Democratic voters nationwide say their main reason for backing Mr Kerry is his electability. A national Newsweek poll published over the weekend showed that 82 per cent of Democrats had a favourable opinion of him, and that 65 per cent believed he was the candidate with the best chance of unseating President Bush. Mr Kerry enjoys the support of a total of 45 per cent of Democrats, with Howard Dean a distant second on 14 per cent and Mr Edwards third with 11 per cent. If the figures are correct, it is going to be almost impossible for Mr Kerry's rivals to pursue their latest strategy, which is to inflict just enough damage on the new front-runner to extend the primary calendar and give them a fighting chance to come back.

The Dean campaign has characterised the next few weeks as a guerrilla war: racking up delegates, if not primary victories, and trying - in the words of Mr Dean's new campaign manager Roy Neel - to be "the last-standing alternative to John Kerry after the Wisconsin primary on 17 February". But that strategy is looking like the last-ditch stand of a dying candidacy. Mr Dean's polling figures suggest that in many if not all of tomorrow's contests he might not make the 15 per cent needed for delegates to qualify.