DENVER -- After the most contentious week of the 1992 campaign season, former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts wants to shake his image as a purely regional candidate tomorrow in Colorado's Democratic presidential primary.
Mr. Tsongas, who has not been in the state since September, surprisingly holds leads in three Colorado polls over the other candidates and thus could become the first of them to win a primary or caucus outside his own home region.
The latest tracking poll for the Denver Post and Channel 4 in Denver, published yesterday, showed Mr. Tsongas at 26 percent, followed by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton at 24 percent, former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. of California at 19 percent, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska at 7 percent and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa at 3 percent.
A clear indication that the other candidates are threatened by the poll numbers came in a sharp and prolonged attack on Mr. Tsongas' pro-business economic proposals -- and his sometimes irritating certitude -- by Mr. Clinton, followed by others, in a heated debate Saturday after the polls were taken.
In a state renowned for its concern about the environment, the other candidates criticized Mr. Tsongas' position as the campaign's only defender of nuclear power. But in this increasingly white-collar state, Mr. Tsongas' call for stronger incentives to business growth, including reductions in capital gains tax rates, appeared to have generated considerable support.
The sleeper in this primary is Mr. Brown, the most outspoken foe of nuclear power, who has campaigned intensively in the state the past week, focusing on college campuses and drawing crowds in hotbeds of environmental concern.
Mr. Brown, railing against the corrupting influence of money in politics, has a special interest in doing well in Colorado: Having failed to win 10 percent in two successive primaries, he is no longer eligible for a federal campaign subsidy and must win 20 percent in a subsequent primary to qualify again.
Mr. Kerrey, whose home state borders on Colorado and who is regarded as particularly knowledgeable on agriculture and other concerns of the region, chose to concentrate on Georgia, where Mr. Clinton is favored, renewing criticism of the Arkansas governor's draft record.
Mr. Harkin has focused on caucuses in Minnesota, Washington, Utah and Idaho, also taking place tomorrow.
Mr. Tsongas has been able to intensify his campaign efforts as a result of his early victories in New Hampshire and Maine.
The campaign here has been marked by a growing hostility between Mr. Tsongas and Mr. Clinton that cannot be attributed solely to poll figures.
Mr. Clinton, frustrated by the series of allegations against him and a recent embarrassing flare-up against the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, has had trouble getting his economic message through.
It has clearly grated on him that Mr. Tsongas has represented himself as the one candidate who really believes in what he proposes and is acting in the country's interest, not his own. Mr. Tsongas in turn has accused Mr. Clinton of misrepresenting his views and, in the debate Saturday, of lying.