DAYTON, Ohio — Howard Dean ended his Democratic presidential campaign Wednesday after finishing a disappointing third in Wisconsin's primary while the two men who beat him there, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, moved on to the next battleground states.

Dean, drubbed in 17 contests and out of money, bowed to political reality and left the race to Kerry and Edwards but pledged that his Internet-based grass-roots organization would continue its efforts to revitalize and "transform" the Democratic Party.

"This party and this country need change, and you have already begun that process," Dean told several hundred supporters who gathered for his campaign farewell. "The truth is, change is tough . . . yet you have have already started to change the party, and together we have transformed this race."

Dean's announcement in Burlington, Vt., came as Kerry campaigned in Ohio with autoworkers and Edwards prepared for an evening fund-raiser in New York. Ohio and New York are among the 10 states voting March 2 in a "Super Tuesday" showdown between the two rivals.

Edwards sought to capitalize on his second-place showing in Wisconsin, though the final vote tally showed him losing by 6 percentage points, a solid Kerry victory that was obscured by network television coverage of early returns suggesting a much closer outcome.

Still, Edwards' second-place finish contrasted sharply to public opinion polls just weeks before the primary, when he trailed Kerry by as much as 30 points.

"Wisconsin proved that this is a two-man race and that American voters are hungry for a candidate who can beat (President) Bush with an optimistic message of hope and opportunity," Edwards said in a morning e-mail message to supporters that solicited donations. By the end of the day, the Edwards campaign claimed it had collected $307,951 online from 3,821 contributors.

Similarly, the Kerry campaign sent a fund-raising e-mail to its supporters in the afternoon, acknowledging that the Wisconsin primary was "a tough fight" and that "this is no time to be complacent" in the pursuit of the party's nomination.

Money will be crucial in the Super Tuesday voting because it involves eight of the nation's 20 most expensive media markets, where saturating the airwaves with political ads can cost between $500,000 and $1 million a week.

Kerry, having won 15 of the 17 primaries and caucuses so far this year, including the last eight, has had a financial windfall as a result of his successes. He has raised at least $7 million this year, more than twice the $3 million Edwards has raised.

Edwards faces another obstacle in the Super Tuesday voting: Of the 10 states voting, only Georgia and Ohio have "open" contests that allow independents and Republicans to vote in the Democratic contest. In Wisconsin's "open" primary, 30 percent of the voters were independents, another 10 percent were Republicans, and Edwards got the greatest share of both, underscoring his appeal beyond party lines.

Kerry told reporters in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday that he plans no changes in his front-running campaign in the face of the threat from Edwards, who has thus far won only one state, South Carolina, the state he was born in.

"I intend to do exactly what I've been doing all along," Kerry said. "You who were with me in Iowa and New Hampshire heard me talking about the differences between my vision and George Bush's vision. That's exactly what I intend to continue to do."

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Wednesday suggested neither Democrat should change his strategy, at least in terms of challenging Bush.

The poll showed Kerry, in a hypothetical match-up, leads Bush by 55 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, while Edwards leads the president by 54 percent to 44 percent.

The poll of 1,006 adults was taken Monday and Tuesday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Kerry and Edwards have both said they will compete in all 10 states on March 2, but it appears likely that Edwards will concentrate on a handful: Ohio, Georgia and New York. Kerry is the only candidate for the 2004 nomination to campaign in every state since the Iowa caucuses kicked off the voting a month ago.

The Iowa caucuses began the slide of the Dean campaign, which ended in Vermont with the former front-runner announcing the end of a White House bid that was not inconsequential.

Dean helped get the Democratic Party off its back following the disastrous 2002 midterm election with his spirited criticism of Bush's war policies and tax cuts and innovative uses of the Internet to raise money and organize a new generation of party activists.

But while mainstream Democratic primary voters and caucusgoers generally agreed with his positions and admired his spirit in trying to rejuvenate "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," they found Kerry and Edwards more likable and more electable.

After raising a record $41 million and holding double-digit leads in public opinion polls, Dean finished a disappointing third in the Iowa caucuses and never recovered, especially with a much-lampooned concession speech eclipsing his comeback efforts.

In bowing out of the race, Dean ruled out an independent bid for the White House. He urged his followers to join him in "doing everything we can" to support the Democratic nominee this fall.

"The most important goal remains defeating George W. Bush in November," he said.

Although he had said earlier that Edwards would be a more formidable opponent for Bush than Kerry, Dean withheld any endorsement of a rival. He did, however, urge his supporters to "keep active in the primaries" and "fight in the caucuses" to "continue to transform the Democratic Party and to change our country."