Resurgent Kerry wins easily in N.H. primary

He solidifies his status as party's front-runner

Dean rebounds, finishes 2nd

Clark slips by Edwards as Lieberman trails

Election 2004

New Hampshire

January 28, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MANCHESTER, N.H. - John Kerry scored a substantial victory over a weakened Howard Dean in the nation's first presidential primary yesterday and left the other Democratic contenders scrambling to stay competitive in the still-fluid race for their party's nomination.

The victory solidified Kerry's position as the national Democratic front-runner. And it gave the Massachusetts senator, who claimed a surprisingly decisive victory last week in the Iowa caucuses, a big edge as the candidates head into a five-week flurry of contests in 27 states.

"Now, this campaign goes on to places all over this country, and I ask Democrats everywhere to join us so that we can defeat George W. Bush and the economy of privilege," Kerry told a jubilant crowd of supporters last night.

For Kerry, the result marked a remarkable resurgence in New Hampshire, where a few weeks ago the senator trailed Dean by double digits in most opinion polls.

The outcome also amounted to something of a rebound for Dean, whose candidacy seemed to be slipping away days ago after his dismal finish in Iowa. Still, it left the former Vermont governor in an uphill battle as the race shifts to states where Dean is less popular than he once was in the first two presidential states - and less well-known.

"The people of New Hampshire have allowed our campaign to regain its momentum, and I am very grateful," Dean said, struggling to quiet a roomful of screaming supporters. "We can change America, and we will."

The results failed to narrow the Democratic field, as some had predicted and as many party officials, eager to unite behind one candidate, had hoped it would.

Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark edged out Sen. John Edwards for third place, with both men looking to coming contests in the South to strengthen their bids. Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman finished fifth and later rebuffed any suggestion that he might quit the race.

Clark, a political novice who hails from Little Rock, Ark., had painted himself as a fresh face with a sterling resume and centrist message that could position him as a formidable challenger for Bush. He took heart from his showing last night. But the retired general, whose inexperience showed at critical moments in New Hampshire as he struggled to explain some of his positions and made some impolitic remarks, has a tough battle ahead of him.

`Not slowing down'

"Never underestimate what a determined soldier can accomplish when he's fighting for his country," Clark told supporters last night. "We're heading South. We're heading West. And we're not slowing down until the last buzzer sounds. ... Today was just the first battle in our campaign to take America back."

Edwards, whose relentlessly upbeat message and winning smile seemed to melt some hearts around the Granite State, used his second-place finish in Iowa to try to build support here. He failed to achieve the surge that his campaign had hoped for in New Hampshire, but he is counting on more success in some of the crucial tests ahead, especially in his native South Carolina, where he leads in the polls and has said he must win.

"This momentum is extraordinary," Edwards exulted before his supporters. "We're going to take this energy and momentum we saw in Iowa, and this energy and momentum we saw in New Hampshire, and we're going to take it right through Feb. 3," when South Carolina and six other states hold contests.

Clark and Lieberman both skipped Iowa to focus their efforts here, but the Connecticut senator reaped little from his strategy. Having staked so much in New Hampshire, he will be hard-pressed to recover from his second-tier showing here and win enough support to compete effectively elsewhere in the country.

"Today, the people of New Hampshire put me in the ring, and that's where we're going to stay," Lieberman said.

The candidates were vying for New Hampshire's 22 convention delegates, but they were also seeking something much more significant: the bulk of the momentum that can flow from a victory in this state.

A record number of voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary, more than 208,000, exceeding the previous record of 170,000 in 1992. The overall turnout was not a record because the Republican primary, won by Bush, was all but uncontested.

Some analysts attributed the high interest in the Democratic contest to the crowded field, which forced the candidates to refine their messages and fight tirelessly for votes - and to Democrats' unhappiness with the president.

Kerry, a four-term senator whose campaign was floundering here a few weeks ago, seized the momentum he gained from his striking Iowa victory and transformed his candidacy from a stiff and lackluster bid to an energetic comeback. He stressed his background as a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a former prosecutor, painting himself as a fighter eager to take on Bush.

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