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Polls suggest very tight race in New Hampshire

As published by MSNBC.com:

Polls suggest very tight race in New Hampshire
MSNBC, other tracking surveys show surge by Kerry after Iowa win

MSNBC staff and news service reports
Updated: 8:20 a.m. ET Jan. 21, 2004With a feverish week of campaigning awaiting them in New Hampshire, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean began Wednesday locked in a dead heat in the nation's first primary.

The turn of events, reflected in the latest MSNBC/Reuters Zogby tracking poll that showed Dean garnering 25 percent to 23 percent for Kerry with a four-point margin of error, was a dramatic comeuppance for Dean, who in December had held a 42-12 lead over Kerry in the same poll.

Other tracking polls taken in recent days showed Kerry closing in as well. An American Research Group poll had Dean at 28 percent, Kerry at 20 percent and retired Gen. Wesley Clark at 19 percent. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup tracking poll had Dean at 32 percent, Kerry at 25 percent and Clark at 21. And a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll gave Dean 33 percent, Kerry 24 percent and Clark 18 percent.

“I am an underdog in New Hampshire,” Kerry said in words echoed by Dean as the volatile campaign moved eastward. A day earlier in Iowa, Kerry and Sen. John Edwards blew the campaign wide open with a one-two caucus finish, stripping a humbled Dean of his front-runner’s mantle.

In polls that tracked the Iowa caucuses for about a week before Monday's voting, Kerry and Edwards had closed on Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt in breathtaking fashion until the four were locked in a statistical dead heat.

As Gephardt exited the race, his fourth-place Iowa finish a political death knell, the remaining major candidates adjusted their strategies for a weeklong sprint to New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary and a seven-state contest seven days later.

In the Zogby poll, Clark is running third at 16 percent. Edwards and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman are tied for fourth place at 7 percent.

'Used to be the front-runner'
While his second-place finish has not yet translated into a New Hampshire surge for Edwards, Iowa winner Kerry has harnessed definite momentum while Dean struggles to stay even.

“I used to be the front-runner when I went out to Iowa, but I’m not the front-runner any more,” Dean said at Portsmouth, N.H., after making the traditional overnight flight from Iowa to the Granite State. “But New Hampshire has a great tradition of supporting the underdog. So guess what? Let’s go get them.”

The topsy-turvy results produced smiles at the White House, where advisers hoped for a long, nasty race that would produce a damaged nominee and divided Democratic Party. President Bush stole the spotlight from Democrats with the annual State of the Union address, a dressed-up version of his campaign agenda.

“They have 17 contests over the next five weeks,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett said without a hint of regret. “So it looks like the roller coaster is just beginning,”

After New Hampshire, the next twist comes Feb. 3 when seven states hold contests, including Gephardt’s home state of Missouri. The state, now up for grabs, has 74 pledged delegates at stake, more than Iowa and New Hampshire combined.

It will cost upward of $1 million a week to air ads in every Feb. 3 television market, not to mention the cost of travel. Kerry, who dipped into his family fortune last year to keep his race afloat, is the only one of the five major candidates not advertising in any of the Feb. 3 states.

'Wild and wide open'
Edwards, whose candidacy hinges on a victory Feb. 3 in South Carolina, is hoping to translate his Iowa momentum into a good finish in New Hampshire. One of his events was so crowded Tuesday that New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman Kathleen Sullivan was turned away at the door.

“This race is wild and wide open,” she said.

Edwards will leave New Hampshire on Wednesday to visit South Carolina, and plans to return to his must-win state once more before next Tuesday.

In South Carolina and elsewhere, Democrats were questioning Dean’s political judgment after a bombastic election-night speech.

“He must not be thinking. He’s heading to New Hampshire and those people are serious-minded. They’re going to be thinking, ’Who’s that cat?”’ said Waring Howe Jr., a Charleston, S.C., lawyer and member of the Democratic National Committee.

A chastened Dean toned down his stump speech Tuesday as part of a message overhaul. “Those of you who came here intending to be lifted to your feet by a lot of red-meat rhetoric will be a little disappointed,” Dean told New Hampshire supporters.

The state is a critical test of Dean’s ability to persuade Democrats that he is back on track and capable of filling what polls show is their greatest desire: Beating Bush.

“He gets third place in New Hampshire and he’ll be flipping pancakes with Dick Gephardt somewhere,” said Howe, who has yet to endorse.

Seeking answers in Monday’s results, Dean’s advisers said they concluded that voters craved change but failed to see their candidate as the agent of reform. Thus, they sought to return Dean to his political roots, focusing on his record as five-term governor of Vermont to cast himself as a reformer with results.

“I am the only person in this race that’s ever balanced a budget, which we sorely need in Washington,” Dean said as the candidates made the rounds of television news shows. “I am the only person that’s ever delivered health insurance to anybody.”

Similar strategy to McCain's
Bush adopted a similar strategy after Arizona Sen. John McCain upset him in the 2000 New Hampshire primary.

Kerry, the four-term senator, said he brings “a full package” to the table — foreign policy that Dean lacks and domestic policy largely absent from Clark’s resume.

His advisers, sitting on a stockpile of ads comparing Kerry’s record to his rivals, debated whether to go negative. Some argue he had to pull voters from Dean, Clark and even Edwards. Others said attack ads would backfire, as they did in Iowa for Dean and Gephardt, and are unnecessary if Kerry maintains his Iowa-bred momentum.

As for each of the candidates, Kerry’s strategy was still in motion Tuesday because the campaign was caught off guard by his strong showing in Iowa.

“We hadn’t factored in this whole winning-the-thing outright,” said Michael Meehan, strategist for the Massachusetts lawmaker who defeated Edwards by 6 percentage points and Dean by 20.

The senator himself said he can beat Dean in New Hampshire. “Well, obviously, we proved that in Iowa,” he said.

Edwards claimed momentum from Iowa and pledged to stick with a positive message that attracted Iowa Democrats fed up with bickering by Dean and Gephardt. Still, he took a swipe at Kerry when asked who was more qualified to bring change to the nation.

Who can bring change?
“The question is whether that change can be brought by somebody who spent most of their life in politics and in Washington,” said Edwards, a first-term North Carolina senator who made his fortune as a trial lawyer.

Dean faulted Kerry for papering voters with negative mail. “If you had seen what was going into the mailboxes in Iowa, perhaps he wouldn’t have looked quite as positive,” he said.

Clark, a political novice who is new to the Democratic Party, surged in New Hampshire polls while his rivals tangled in Iowa. At his campaign headquarters in Manchester, N.H., the Arkansan said he’d be a better candidate than Edwards in the South.

“I’m a product of the South,” said Clark, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Arkansas.

Lieberman, like Clark, skipped Iowa for an early stand in New Hampshire.

Posted by Mark at January 21, 2004 9:55 AM | TrackBack

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