Presidential preference primary election Tuesday

Monday, February 2nd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Campaign 2004 is heating up. And Oklahomans head to the polls tomorrow to vote for the presidential candidate they hope will represent the Democratic Party this fall.

The state's early primary has attracted unprecedented attention from the contenders. Several candidates were in the Sooner state last week rallying support. For those candidates Super Tuesday could mean "do or die". News on 6 anchor Terry Hood takes an in-depth look at the candidates' efforts.

It began as a crowded field. Eight Democrats hoping for a shot at challenging President Bush next fall. Since a candidate's forum in Stillwater last summer, two contenders, former Illinois Senator Carol Mosley-Braun and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt have dropped out. And a former NATO commander, General Wesley Clark has jumped in.

Now, Oklahoma voters have a choice to make. After back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is now the man to beat. Kerry wants to extend the insurance system for federal employees to private citizens. The Vietnam War vet voted for the Iraqi war, but says he did so based on faulty intelligence. Kerry just made his first trip to Oklahoma. “You’ve lost 35,000 jobs in Oklahoma. You've lost 25,000 manufacturing jobs. You've got 600,000 people in this state who don't even have health insurance. The one person in the United States who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush and that's what we're going to do."

While John Kerry is ahead in the polls nationally, late-comer General Wesley Clark is leading in Oklahoma. The former NATO commander is touting a multi-million dollar jobs plan and tax breaks for the middle class. Clark has been criticized for his lack of experience. Terry Hood: “Some people are worried that you'd be too unpredictable as president?” Wesley Clark: "I'd think I'll be very predictable. I'll do my duty as president of the US. I'm gonna work hard and I'm gonna make sure the people in my government does to do the right kind of job for the people of America."

North Carolina Senator John Edwards has been to Oklahoma more times than any other candidate. Edwards' message is centered on the fight for the little guy. He says there are two Americas, one for the rich and one for the poor in everything from the tax code to health care to education. He told me Oklahoma is critical to his strategy to win the nomination. "But this state is what my campaign is about the problems here loss of jobs health care all of the day to day struggles of the middle class and what we need to do to strengthen the middle class and lifting families out of poverty, it's what my campaign is about."

Vermont Governor Howard Dean's popularity has deflated after two back-to-back losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Dean has relentlessly criticized President Bush for the war on Iraq. He has 8 consecutive "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association. And he says he's a lot more conservative than many people think. "So I'm the kind of Democrat that has a shot at winning in the general election in Oklahoma because I'm a little more conservative about money and a little more conservative about guns than most Democrats are."

Reverend Al Sharpton and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich are also vying for the nomination. Kucinich came to Oklahoma for this summer’s candidates’ forum, but Sharpton hasn't campaigned here at all.

Joe Lieberman has visited Oklahoma several times, but he's still lagging in the polls. Despite a poor showing in early contests, Lieberman says he hasn't given up on a bid for the White House. He tells voters he is the only moderate, experienced Democrat in the race. On Tuesday, voters will decide if that's enough.

Although Richard Gephardt dropped out of the race, he'll still be on Tuesday's ballot. Republicans also have a primary Tuesday. Californian Bill Wyatt is running against President Bush. Tulsa voters will also elect several city council positions.