Kerry builds his lead in N.H.

Mass. senator ahead by double digits in polls

Clark, Edwards seek boost

Dean halts fall in surveys but hasn't fully rebounded

Election 2004

January 25, 2004|By Paul West and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Paul West and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CONCORD, N.H. - Sen. John Kerry, the leader heading into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, ignored his Democratic rivals during a frigid day of campaigning yesterday, while former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont tried to turn up the heat on the front-runner.

Kerry, winner of last week's Iowa caucuses, kept his focus on defeating President Bush in the fall and avoiding missteps in the final two days of the contest here.

A solid primary victory would make the 60-year-old Massachusetts senator the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination when the campaign moves South for a big round of primaries Feb. 3.

Dean, meanwhile, was struggling to keep his candidacy from collapsing in New Hampshire, where he led by as many as 20 points just a few weeks ago. He launched a fresh attack against Kerry over the war in Iraq, the issue that lifted Dean out of obscurity last year and caused Kerry problems for months in this state.

New voter surveys, released yesterday, suggest that Dean has finally halted his plunge in the polls but has yet to recover his previous levels of support.

With Kerry ahead by double digits, the opening primary of 2004 might wind up as a fight for second place, rather than first.

Both retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, whose candidacy is stalled or slipping, and Sen. John Edwards, who seems to be gaining, are hoping to pull off a surprise and finish as runner-up to Kerry on Tuesday. Each badly needs a boost going into primaries the next week in South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma and other states.

The latest polls here give all the trailing candidates reason for hope. They show an electorate in flux, with a significant percentage of likely voters either undecided or willing to change their minds by Election Day.

`The guy to beat'

"Kerry's the guy to beat," said Dante Scala, a political scientist at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. "If anybody's going to win it other than Kerry, it would be Dean."

A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today tracking poll, released yesterday, showed Kerry with support from 35 percent of likely voters and a 12 percentage point lead over Dean. The poll found that Dean's 23 percent support was a 1 percentage point gain over the previous day.

The survey has a 4 percent margin of possible sampling error.

The poll showed Clark in third place with 14 percent and Edwards fourth at 11 percent.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman was at 10 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich at 3 percent in the poll, which was completed Friday.

Dean on the floor

Two other tracking surveys, by Zogby International for MSNBC and another by the American Research Group, also showed Dean's slide ending. However, a tracking poll by KRC Communications Research for the Boston Globe showed him continuing to drop.

Dean's support is at about the level that Democratic politicians had estimated to be the floor for his campaign in the state.

"It's one thing to hit the floor. It's another thing to get off the floor," Scala said.

To rebound, Dean must find a way to lure back liberal Democrats who have deserted him, such as Anne Stoops, 74, of Peterborough, N.H., who said Dean "lost me" with "his rantings."

She's voting for Kerry, she said, though she disagrees with his vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution.

"He's very presidential," said Stoops, who gave the senator an enthusiastic thumbs-up after hearing him address several hundred supporters yesterday at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, the state capital.

Kerry vs. Bush

Kerry never mentioned any of his Democratic opponents by name during the event, where he picked up the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters.

He urged New Hampshire voters to turn out at the polls in two days "not just to send America a message. Go there to send them a president."

Kerry's campaign also circulated word of the latest Newsweek poll, which showed a statistical tie between Kerry at 49 percent and Bush at 46 percent in a hypothetical matchup.

The survey also showed Dean, who had been the national front-runner in earlier polls, slipping into a virtual tie with Edwards for second place behind Kerry.

Differing stands on Iraq

At campaign stops in the Granite State yesterday, Dean pleaded with voters to help him reverse his slide and win Tuesday.

"I'd really like to get your vote on Tuesday, because we can still win - I want to win," Dean told a packed town hall meeting at the Wentworth by the Sea resort and spa in New Castle. "We're catching up, we're closing the gap, we're going to close it."

During that appearance and at several points yesterday, Dean contrasted his past positions on U.S. military involvement in Iraq with Kerry's.

Dean said he supported the first Iraq war in 1991, when U.S. troops were on the ground and at risk, while the Massachusetts senator opposed it. But Kerry supported the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq, taking the president's word that such action was justified, while Dean was vehemently against it.

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