The results roll in hours before John Kerry takes the stage to address his supporters at a victory party at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle. Seven states voted on February 3, the first big delegate haul of the primary season. Kerry was the undisputed frontrunner as the day began, fresh from rolling up big wins over Howard Dean in Iowa and New Hampshire. The news for Kerry on this Tuesday evening is almost all good--but it's not great, not quite the coronation that some Kerry supporters were hoping for.

Kerry is winning handily in five states: Missouri, Delaware, North Dakota, Arizona, and New Mexico. But he is losing Oklahoma by a fraction in a tight three-way race with Wesley Clark and John Edwards. He has lost South Carolina to Edwards by a substantial margin. For Howard Dean, New Mexico is a painful defeat--it was the only state the former frontrunner was given any chance of actually taking tonight.

Just before 8:30 p.m., the senator from Massachusetts takes the stage as a Jimi Hendrix song, "Fire," blares from the loudspeakers. He is backed on stage by a who's who of the state's Democratic political establishment, most of whom--craven wimps that they are--rushed to jump on Kerry's bandwagon only after his victory in the nominating process seemed ordained. And as Kerry stands patiently, he is introduced--with typical mind-numbing dullness--by charisma-challenged Gov. Gary Locke, who succeeds in undercutting some of the crowd's enthusiasm.

The waiting crowd is huge; staffers have been forced at the last minute to open the room divider that cuts the Sheraton's ballroom in half, doubling the size of the room to accommodate the hundreds of late arrivals. The ballroom is packed with several thousand cheering supporters. And once Locke is finished and Kerry takes to the stage, the energy returns to the room.

Kerry starts with a Super Bowl joke: "For the second time in two days," he says, "a New England patriot has won on the road." Quickly, though, he gets down to business, and the business of this night is bashing Bush--Kerry has developed a pretty good impression of Howard Dean, and the crowd laps it up. "We will defeat George W. Bush," he promises, to cheers from the throng. Later, he wins some of the loudest applause of the night when he promises an administration "where the attorney general is no longer John Ashcroft." The Bush slapping reaches its peak when he accuses Bush of running "the most arrogant, reckless, inept, and ideological foreign policy of modern times." The crowd loves it.

Kerry then launches into a muscular advocacy of economic populism as he denounces the Bush administration as a corporatist plutocracy. Kerry promises to rein in "Benedict Arnold CEOs and corporations," adding that "at the heart of this campaign is our commitment to an America where the future is built on fairness for all, not privilege for the few." He will, he promises, repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy to invest in expanded health care and education.

But the one question Kerry's speech does not answer is why he is here this evening, in Seattle, in the first place. Kerry could have chosen any of the seven February 3 states to do a day of last-minute campaigning. Instead, he spent the lunch hour in Spokane, holding a rally on the airport tarmac. From there he flew to Seattle for his victory bash.

Howard Dean is in town too, after having spent the day campaigning in Spokane and Tacoma. It is not a coincidence. Washington State has become a battleground between the two men--perhaps the last battleground. It was not supposed to be this way. Since August 24, at least, when Dean drew 10,000 screaming supporters to a Westlake Center rally, and 900 to a morning town hall forum in Spokane, Bush-hating, peace-loving Washington has been considered uncontested Dean country.

Not anymore. With Dean's campaign battered and fading after his Iowa and New Hampshire flameouts, his treasury drained and his hyped campaign manager, Joe Trippi, out the door, Dean is fighting for his political life, hoping to engineer a turnaround with a solid victory in Washington on February 7. But Kerry sees the opportunity to steal the state from him, essentially delivering a final, fatal blow to Dean's once high-flying campaign.

For Dean, winning Washington State is life or death. And the size and enthusiasm of the young, energetic crowd at the Kerry party is not a good sign for Dean.