Returning to N.H., Democrats face an uncertain fray

Kerry presses to hold momentum as Dean looks to repair Iowa damage

Edwards has an eye on S.C.

Election 2004

On To New Hampshire

January 21, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MANCHESTER, N.H. - John Kerry made a triumphant return to this state's uncertain political fray yesterday, pushing to maintain the momentum he seized in an astonishing win in Monday's Iowa caucuses.

With just a week to go until New Hampshire's primary, Kerry presented himself to voters not as a conquering hero but as a comeback artist ready to take the state by storm and once again convincingly defeat the presumed favorite, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

"I intend to win in New Hampshire," he told reporters as he campaigned at a Chevrolet dealership in downtown Manchester.

At an early-morning rally just after his plane touched down at Manchester Airport, Kerry did his best to harness the optimism that suffused a hangar packed with supporters without appearing to take his return to contender status for granted.

"The whole world will be watching what you do here - it's your chance now," he told the crowd. "While I may be the underdog in this state, I have yet begun to fight and show the full measure of what we will do."

The four-term Massachusetts senator, whose tenure in Washington once threatened to become a liability in the face of Dean's anti-establishment rhetoric, was playing up his experience on domestic and foreign policy issues and his record on national security matters.

"We need a Democratic nominee, and the country needs a leader, who has the ability to stand up eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe, face-to-face with this president, and convince Americans in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton we have the ability to make America safer and wage a more thoughtful war on terror," Kerry said.

Dean arrived in New Hampshire well before dawn yesterday, a far more subdued candidate than the one who raised eyebrows by letting out a shrill yell in front of Iowa supporters Monday night. He immediately began the arduous process of repairing the damage done to him by his distant third-place finish in the caucuses.

The most recent New Hampshire polls, conducted before his Iowa debacle, had Dean ahead with Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who skipped Iowa to focus his efforts here, competing for second.

But Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the runner-up in Iowa, are likely to benefit from a bounce in the next round of polling and Dean could lose his lead.

Edwards was running a distant fourth in recent New Hampshire polls but hopes a better finish will propel his campaign in Southern states, notably his native South Carolina, which holds its primary Feb. 3. He already seems to be focusing his efforts there, campaigning in the state today and planning another trip for Friday.

"I see this enormous momentum and movement and surge going across the country, and I think anything is possible," Edwards said yesterday on NBC's Today show. "But I'm going to work my heart out right here in New Hampshire."

While Dean has the money - about $40 million - and organization for a nationwide run for the nomination, he acknowledged that he badly needs a victory in New Hampshire, where voters have in the past often tended to bolster candidates passed over in Iowa.

"We better win in New Hampshire if we're going to change the system," he told a few hundred supporters gathered at the Manchester Holiday Inn. "New Hampshire has an extraordinary opportunity."

After receiving criticism in Iowa for his brash style - including his red-faced appearance Monday night after the caucuses - Dean tried out a more measured tone in New Hampshire, giving his usual stump speech at a lower volume. In a speech he billed as his own "State of the Union," Dean focused more on health care and the deficit than he did on the Iraq war, the issue that stoked his rise.

Kerry supporters were hopeful that Iowa's results had given their candidate the opening he might need to peel support away from Dean - or at least persuade undecided voters who were leaning toward backing him to look again at Kerry.

Shivering but smiling, young Kerry volunteers waved signs outside the airport rally and chanted, "All the fours are threes!" - a reference, one said, to the numbers the campaign uses to distinguish Dean supporters from undecided voters during canvassing. Those backing the former Vermont governor are recorded as fours, while voters who are still up for grabs are threes.

Clark's campaign - and that of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who also skipped Iowa - acknowledged that the caucus results had remade the New Hampshire race. Both said it was to their candidate's advantage.

Lieberman, who is lagging at fifth in statewide polls despite the hefty share of money and time he has poured into competing here, declared New Hampshire "a brand new ballgame." Campaign aides of the Connecticut senator said Iowa's surprise winners proved that anything can happen in a fluid race.

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