There was more good news on Thursday for Democratic front-runner John Kerry. A new poll showed the Massachusetts senator with a double-digit lead in Georgia, a Super Tuesday state rival John Edwards hopes to win.
Kerry also picked up the endorsement of the New York Times. The newspaper said he "exudes maturity and depth."
The latest developments followed a Kerry sweep of three state primaries on Tuesday, and polls that show him with commanding leads in the three biggest Super Tuesday states: California, New York and Ohio.
Edwards will have the opportunity to gain some ground on Kerry tonight, when the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Los Angeles.
The Georgia poll conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB TV shows Kerry leading Edwards 39 percent to 23 percent. But it also suggests the race could be a close one, with 21 percent of those surveyed still undecided. The poll of 395 voters was conducted Monday and Tuesday by Zogby International.
CBS News Anchor Dan Rather will moderate a debate among the four Democratic presidential contenders on Sunday, Feb. 29, at 11:00 AM ET. Watch a live Webcast on CBSNews.com.
Kerry received the New York Times endorsement in an editorial published Thursday. The newspaper said Kerry does not easily fit the mold of a "typical Massachusetts liberal" and that his positions "come from mainstream American thought, centrism of the old school."
"He is a gun owner and hunter who supports effective gun control laws, a combat veteran who, having seen a great deal of death, opposes capital punishment," the Times said.
Edwards is hoping a strong debate performance may help fuel a late surge in support heading toward a 10-state Democratic presidential showdown next Tuesday.
But the North Carolina senator's advisers agreed that narrowing the gap with his Massachusetts Senate colleague would be difficult, especially in California, where Kerry enjoys more than a two-to-one advantage in recent polls.
"We have a mountain to climb," said Herb Wesson, former state assembly leader and California chairman of Edwards' campaign. "But we have just elected a governor who is an actor. So nothing's impossible in this state."
The 90-minute evening debate at the University of California will include all four remaining Democratic candidates, including long-shots Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. It is sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and CNN.
Both Kerry and Edwards had a relatively light schedule Thursday to give them time for debate preparation.
Edwards was picking up endorsements in San Francisco from California Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and ACORN, an advocacy organization for low and moderate-income families.
Kerry planned to join striking grocery workers on the picket line in Santa Monica before the debate — one of two debates remaining before next week's Super Tuesday contests. The other is Sunday in New York City.
Kerry so far has won 18 Democratic contests while Edwards has won one, South Carolina, where he was born.