MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Presidential contender Paul E. Tsongas enjoys telling crowds here in New Hampshire that he's uncharismatic, plain-looking, and sometimes dull. But these days he's not lacking in self-confidence.
While some other primary campaigns worried last week that their candidates might be stalling or falling in the polls, the former Massachusetts senator was buoyed by signs he is still connecting with voters. Mr. Tsongas even seemed to be winning over liberal Democrats, according to one poll -- despite a pro-business message with features that many would consider conservative.
"A year from now, we'll be in the White House," Mr. Tsongas promised voters at a campaign stop in Hudson, N.H., last week.
But amid these favorable developments, there were signs that thethinly financed campaign may face organizational difficulties when the focus moves to other states after the Feb. 18 primary. Mr. Tsongas has raised less than a third as much money as the fund-raising leader, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. And as Mr. Tsongas gains in the polls, his rivals are less willing to praise his ideas, as they did earlier in the campaign.
Mr. Tsongas himself noted during last Friday's debate that the kind words have stopped. "Now I've moved up in the polls and I'm Darth Vader," he said.
Despite continuing volatility in the polls, Mr. Tsongas remains in a relatively strong and stable position.
In a University of New Hampshire poll of likely Democratic voters taken Jan. 27, Mr. Tsongas received support from 25 percent of the respondents, compared to Mr. Clinton's 30 percent. Another Jan. 27 poll by Boston's KRC Communications gave Mr. Tsongas 21 percent to Mr. Clinton's 30 percent. A third poll, taken from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 by Manchester's American Research Group, gave him 23 percent to Mr.Clinton's 38 percent. All these polls have a margin of error of about 5 percentage points in either direction.
The favorable polls have surprised many political analysts, who thought the droopy-eyed lawyer from Lowell, Mass., could not convince voters that he is presidential material. "I always thought Tsongas would be strongest on the day that he announced," said Richard Winters, professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "This is a surprise to me."
At a campaign stop for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in Peterborough, N.H., last week, Carol Bramblett said she could understand Mr. Tsongas' attraction.
"He's not your politician who will say anything," said Ms. Bramblett, a former teacher who described herself as a liberal Democrat. "People have taken another look at him, and he's getting respect around here."
But Ms. Bramblett, who said she is trying to choose between Mr. Tsongas and Mr. Harkin, added that she was still unsure whether enough Americans consider Mr. Tsongas presidential enough.