ABCNEWS' Ed O'Keefe is on the trail with Sen. John Kerry as he runs for president. For the latest report, scroll down.
COLUMBUS, Ohio, March 2--Sen. John Kerry's day leading up to Super Tuesday felt more like a busy general election campaign swing rather than the continuing drama of a two-person nomination contest. In fact, to hear Kerry's trio of stump speeches delivered Monday in Maryland, Ohio, and Georgia, one might believe the only two-man race in the Senator's mind is against President George W. Bush.
In a 35-minute rally cry in which Senator Kerry never once even mentioned Sen. Edwards, the Massachusetts Senator instead focused on President Bush, promising, "This is going to be a campaign different from campaigns in the past. This isn't going to be some kind of, you know, we're like them, they're like us, wishy-washy, mealy-mouth, you can't tell the difference deal. This is going to be something where we're giving America a real choice."
But even as Kerry gave glimpse of the anticipated fall campaign to come to in his "Real Deal" spiel at Ohio State University, a young boy in the audience had had enough. Slipping from his mother's grasp, his sneakers plunked to the ground and he began a silent protest.
Cupping a hand over each ear, the young boy paced along the rear security barrier, finally realizing only a direct plea would win his mother's attention. Standing at her waist, the boy looked up and cried, "No más! No más! No más!"
Fortunately for Sen. Kerry, the boy did not represent the feelings of the nearly 500 gathered to see the frontrunner on his third trip to Ohio in twelve days.
It is clear, however, the Kerry camp hopes the Junior Senator from Massachusetts racks up big wins on delegate-rich Super Tuesday, forcing the Senior Senator from North Carolina to do his best Roberto Duran in acknowledging either the statistical inevitability or stark reality of Kerry's nomination crown.
In some part, the Kerry camp would like to conclude the nomination phase of the election for all the expected reasons. Facing a $4.5 million onslaught of BC04 ads, now is not the time for any potential Democratic nominee to be draining near-empty coffers of precious resources on the battle when the war is yet to come.
But, it's also a question of energy. Sen. Kerry has been campaigning at a near constant pace since December of 2002, hardly even taking a break to recover from prostate cancer surgery early the next year.
Kerry, a meticulous and articulate speaker, tires more easily and is beginning to make small mistakes on the trail.
In Dayton, Ohio last week, the Senator twice referred to Ohio as Iowa and on Monday he ruffled some Buckeyes when beginning his remarks, "We're here at Iowa State, Ohio State. I've got to get it out right."
The Senator is also reverting back to an old habit of stepping on or rushing signature lines, causing events to quickly fall flat.
And new material is sloppy such as when the Senator, in attempt to make an Oscar connection, joked, "Did you see Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings? (It) cleaned up, obviously. I learned that Peter Jackson used 25,000 extras (to make the film). He's created more jobs than George Bush has, ladies and gentlemen." Unfortunately, a majority of those 25,000 jobs were created in New Zealand where the "outsourced" trilogy filmed.