With John Edwards and Wesley Clark courting Tennessee and Virginia, and Howard Dean declaring Wisconsin his "must win" state, it would be easy to overlook this weekend's caucus trifecta. Don't. In total, these three states hold 204 delegates -- almost as many as last Tuesday's seven states combined.
Michigan (128 delegates) is the weekend's heavy hitter, and voters here have three choices this year: They can vote online, via snail mail, or show up at one of 590 caucus sites on Saturday. The mail-in and Internet voting systems have been running for five weeks now, and as of last weekend, 123,000 people had requested the mail-in or Internet ballots. Who knows how many Michiganders cast their votes before the primary season even started? Dick Gephardt, though no longer in the race, may have scored a good number of those early votes. With Michigan 185,000 factory jobs lighter over the last four years, he was an attractive option. Gephardt had also locked up endorsements from the Teamsters, Steelworkers, and Machinists, and none of these organizations has yet switched allegiance to a viable candidate.
On Friday, Gephardt will endorse Kerry, adding to the Massachusetts senator's already powerful collection of Michigan endorsements. To date, Kerry has won the support of Governor Jennifer Granholm (his companion for Friday's statewide bus tour), Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and the Michigan Education Association.
Not that he needs it: The latest Detroit News poll has Kerry at 52 percent, with Dean, Edwards, and Clark trailing unimpressively at 9 percent, 8 percent, and 4 percent, respectively. Michigan's 900,000 veterans might give Clark a slight boost, but their presence will work to Kerry's advantage, too. In Michigan, a midwestern manufacturing state with a significant African-American population, Edwards has been given an opportunity to prove his national appeal. But he has virtually no organization in the state and has made clear that his team considers Tennessee and Virginia the next big priorities.
Dean is on the scene Friday. Despite his backing by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, though, he has said he doesn't see any hope of winning. None of the campaigns has run ads here yet, and he won't buy another one until Wisconsin.
Washington (76) doesn't have party registration, but it's a progressive and independent stronghold. The state switched to a caucus format this year, and officials predict more than 100,000 voters will turn out for this weekend's contest. In a January poll, Kerry led with 40 points, followed again by Dean (13), Edwards (11), and Clark (8). Washington will be a Kerry-Dean contest, though it may not be a close one. Kerry has endorsements from Governor Gary Lock, Senator Maria Cantwell, the League of Conservation Voters, firefighters, and veterans. And earlier this week, he made his first Washington state visit since June.
Meanwhile, Dean has raised more money here than all of his competitors combined. This was once his territory -- home to one of the original Meetups, a "Sleepless Summer" stop, and an enthusiastic crowd for his statements against the Iraq War. He was in Spokane and Tacoma earlier this week and has at least five paid staffers working alongside volunteers, trying to keep the buzz alive.
In Maine (24), Kerry, Dean, and Dennis Kucinich -- and many of the state's Democrats -- may have to brave temperatures in the teens this Sunday to attend this caucus. Others -- around 40 percent of the voters -- will send in absentee ballots. In this state, Dean and Kerry have full-time paid staffs. Kerry has been endorsed by Governor John Baldacci, as well as by former Senator George J. Mitchell. The Portland Press Herald, meanwhile, has endorsed Edwards.
Heidi Pauken is the Prospect's assistant editor.