Ron Fournier of the Associated Press had it first, reporting late Tuesday night that retired Gen. Wesley Clark will drop out of the race Wednesday, after finishing third in Virginia and Tennessee. That was the rumor all day Tuesday, but Clark finished his concession speech without tipping his hand. "We're not going to lose the battle for America's future," he told supporters in Memphis, Tenn. But a Clark advisor told AP, and later other reporters, that the general will return to Little Rock, Ark. and announce his withdrawal tomorrow.
That leaves John Edwards and Howard Dean battling for the right to face John Kerry one on one. The New York Times' Adam Nagourney says they're "looking to the lessons of Jerry Brown in 1992 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988, two other Democratic presidential contenders who stayed at the party long after the lights had come up, trying to enhance their national stature in a race that for all purposes appears to be over." But on Tuesday night, it's worth noting, Edwards continued to play nice, while Dean kept swinging at Kerry.
On MSNBC's Hardball, Dean blasted Kerry for taking too much "special interest money," which he said "makes it hard for him to run against George Bush." And he insisted he's still aiming for "Super Tuesday" -- though nobody calls it that any more, since Kerry started pulling away -- on March 2, when 1151 delegates will be up for grabs coast to coast, from New York to California. Former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, now an MSNBC analyst, suggested Kerry should be begging Edwards to stay in the race, "because he does not want to go one on one with Howard Dean."
But Dean promised he wouldn't be a spoiler. "This is not gonna be a quixotic campaign to wreck the Democratic Party's chances to beat Bush," he told Chris Matthews. He also admitted it would be tough to hang on until could-be-Super Tuesday if he doesn't win Wisconsin next week -- and polls show him trailing badly. Figuring out how to hammer Kerry without aiding Bush, of course, could be even tougher.