A disappointing finish in Arizona and elsewhere on February 3 prompted Lieberman to exit the presidential race.
(CNN) -- Propelled by a flurry of last-minute support, Sen. John Kerry comfortably won the February 3 Arizona primary, ahead of second-place finisher Wesley Clark.
Helped by resounding support from elderly voters and a strong showing among Latinos, the Massachusetts senator carried momentum from wins in Iowa and New Hampshire to carry Arizona. (Full results)
Arizona only became a focal point days immediately before the primary, when candidates and media converged on the state and many voters finally made up their minds: Exit polls indicated that as many as 20 percent didn't pick a candidate until Election Day. (Exit poll results)
When the 2004 Democratic primary calendar became official in 2003, Arizona promised to be a critical showdown state in the race for the presidential nomination.
Party leaders in the Grand Canyon State had joined a half-dozen other states in scheduling primaries and caucuses on February 3; only Iowa and New Hampshire held earlier contests. Arizona served as the Democrats' gateway to the West, a key swing state, and, along with the New Mexico caucuses, the first and possibly best chance to connect with large numbers of Hispanic voters. (Election calendar)
By chance and geography, Arizona was sometimes overlooked by the media as other states and stories grabbed the headlines. But that changed a week before the primary, after earlier surprises in Iowa and New Hampshire opened up the Democratic race.
Besides moving up the primary date more than a month from March 11 in 2000, giving Arizonans an opportunity to help determine (rather than rubber-stamp) a nominee, the state party held a debate October 9, 2003, in Phoenix, in which candidates fielded questions from CNN experts and undecided Democrats. (Full story)
The debate was held two days after the California recall election that made movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger the Golden State's governor-elect. The intense media spotlight on the recall and the lack of interest at the time in the Democratic presidential race sapped attention from the Phoenix debate, at least nationally.
So the candidates soldiered on -- more often than not, away from Arizona.
A few built modest campaign teams in the state, visiting the major metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson. Sen. Joseph Lieberman was the lone hopeful to venture much farther in 2003, campaigning in the Navajo Nation and Nogales, while Governor Dean could boast a virtual presence by broadcasting television commercials, including several in Spanish.
Dean's front-runner presence nationally at year's end made him the initial favorite in Arizona, especially in December, when he won the endorsement of Bruce Babbit, an ex-Arizona governor and Interior secretary in the Clinton administration.
A month later, the former Vermont governor had also reportedly lined up the support of the state's top Democrat, Gov. Janet Napolitano.
But Napolitano never gave a formal blessing. And Dean's national standing and campaign stumbled as he placed third in the Iowa caucuses January 19, and, eight days later, second in New Hampshire's primary.
Days before Arizona's primary, Dean replaced campaign manger Joe Trippi with Roy Neel, the former chief of staff to Al Gore, and asked staffers to do without paychecks for two weeks. He also did not run more ads in Arizona, choosing instead to target post-February 3 contests, particularly in Michigan and Washington.
Dean's loss of traction opened the doors for Kerry and Clark, who emerged as Arizona front-runners a week ahead of the primary.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, and Clark, a retired general, both curried the favor of Arizona's 550,000 veterans, roughly 10 percent of the electorate.
Statewide, the Massachusetts senator built up the stronger campaign organization in the state, while Clark spent more money on TV ads.
Kerry's biggest boost came well east of Arizona, in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he scored wins that made him the front-runner nationally entering the February 3 contests.
"[Kerry] is going to have the momentum from those two major victories, no doubt about it, particularly with the significant percentage of the voters who are still undecided," Napolitano said five days before her state's primary.
His New Hampshire claim of "Joementum" notwithstanding, Lieberman's chances seemed slim -- despite his considerable efforts in Arizona. But the Connecticut senator got a lift when the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, backed him six days before the primary.
Urging Arizonans to "be bold," the Republic editorial said, "Arizona ought to be a state that rewards Lieberman's kind of political courage, to stand up for what he believes in.
"The whole point of moving up Arizona's presidential primary by a couple of months was to give Democrats here a greater voice in nominating their presidential candidate ... A vote for Joe Lieberman would be a fresh message, not an echo."
On the eve of the Arizona vote, the three other candidates seemed long shots, at best.
Although North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was the first to hire a full-time staffer in Arizona, he -- like the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- never looked like a winner in the state, despite his rising popularity nationally over the past month.