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A shift to national stage will change the dynamic

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Today, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination goes national. And national changes everything.

Iowa and New Hampshire, those temples of retail politics, are history. The candidates have logged thousands of hours in those states, flipping pancakes and placing gentle hands on elderly shoulders in hopes of attracting every voter personally. For months they belonged to the voters of those two states, who have now delivered their 67 delegates, out of 2,162 needed to secure the nomination.

Retail is over. From now on, it's wholesale all the way.

And it's going to cost all the candidates now as they race back and forth from South Carolina to Arizona, seeking votes and buying television time. All of the campaigns are strapped for cash after the battles in Iowa and New Hampshire.

John Kerry, now the clear front-runner after his two victories, has had some fund-raising success over the past week, but some of his rivals are nearly broke at a time when they have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to air television commercials to be competitive in the next stage of the primary.

Just six days from today, primaries will be conducted in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. New Mexico and North Dakota will hold caucuses. A total of 336 delegates will be up for grabs.

In those states, the campaigns must attract entirely new groups of voters: African-Americans, Latinos, social conservatives, evangelical Christians, and Catholics, among many others. And their appeal will be tested in two crucial areas: the South, which, to Democrats' frustration, has recently belonged to the GOP; and the West, which Democrats hope to make a new stronghold.

The races in these states will be won, not in lingering town hall meetings and home visits, but on tarmacs and televisions as candidates frantically crisscross the country. None of the candidates has the money to launch anything more than a modest seven-state effort, particularly given vital contests in other states through February and early March.

Some of the campaigns have small operations sprinkled through the Feb. 3 states. A few have been advertising. Senators John Edwards of North Carolina and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut have been airing television spots in Arizona, as have former Vermont governor Howard Dean and retired Army General Wesley K. Clark. Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts has recently bought air time here, too, and his campaign said yesterday it intends to run TV commercials in all seven states.

Edwards also is advertising in South Carolina and Oklahoma, where his strategists say his chances are good; and Clark television spots are airing in New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. Dean had pulled back some of his advertising, awaiting the outcome of last night's primary before deciding where to deploy resources.

In Missouri, the biggest prize in the seven-state contest, with 74 delegates, all of the candidates are starting from scratch. Until the Iowa caucuses, that state belonged to St. Louis congressman Richard A. Gephardt, who had the state so completely sewn up that none of the others, save Dean, had bothered to compete there. Since his departure, the campaigns have been trying to line up former Gephardt loyalists for endorsements, which they hope will be low-cost shortcuts to voters' hearts.

"Appealing to the whole state is almost impossible to do, given the size of it," said US Representative William Lacy Clay, a devoted Gephardt supporter, who said last week he would not endorse anyone in the primary.

And unlike voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, who are bombarded with politics for months before the day of decision, many voters in the seven states who will decide on Feb. 3 appear to be only vaguely aware of their primaries. In Webster Groves, just outside St. Louis, many residents said they had no idea that they were supposed to vote so soon.

That is where momentum comes in. Kerry was nowhere in Arizona until he won the Iowa caucuses. But an Arizona Republic poll Sunday showed him leading the field. Because the primary calendar is so short this year (a compression championed by Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe, in the hopes of quickly uniting the party behind the nominee), bounce will count for a great deal more than in previous years. Although states with earlier primaries, eager for the courting enjoyed by the first two primary states, were all too happy to oblige McAuliffe, the compressed calendar has left precious little time for the wooing, and effectively increased the clout of New Hampshire and Iowa.

In Missouri, barber Lee Moss certainly wasn't committing to anyone before he knew last night's results. "If you go to a racetrack and see all the horses lined up, the one that [looks like he will be] first isn't the one that is necessarily going to win," Moss said in his Webster Groves shop late last week. "I'm still waiting to see what happens in New Hampshire."

It is a state of affairs that worries Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "The problem with frontloading is that it delivers unto a party a nominee before most people even have a chance to think carefully," he said. "With a schedule that is stretched out over four or five months, you can have buyer's remorse from the early primaries. There's the chance that party activists will reverse course because of new circumstances or new information that is revealed about a candidate. That is virtually impossible now. "

But party leaders hope the extra time available to unite behind a nominee will help Democrats satisfy their main craving: beating President Bush in November.

Yvonne Abraham can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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