- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Most of the Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination have lost overall popularity among Democratic voters in key states since starting their campaigns this year.

“I don’t get the feeling that the electorate is very happy with the field right now,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which has been polling the state’s Democrats since the start of the year.

Top candidates have lost overall popularity in Iowa and South Carolina, according to several polls. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will be the first three states to conduct nominating contests for the Democratic primary.

Unlike poll questions that ask which candidate voters would pick in an election, “net favorability ratings” determine whether voters have a positive or negative impression of each candidate.

Mr. Smith arrived at the “net favorability ratings” for each candidate by taking the percentage of respondents with a “favorable” opinion and subtracting the percentage with an “unfavorable” opinion. The polls registered the opinions of only Democrats.

In New Hampshire, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is the only candidate whose popularity has grown. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have slipped among New Hampshire Democrats but remain comfortably popular. Democrats’ impressions of Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and John Edwards of North Carolina have dropped by nearly half, into dangerously low territory, Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Graham faces similarly low popularity in South Carolina, where his rating has dropped 15 percentage points since he began campaigning. According to surveys conducted by American Research Group, the number of respondents with an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Graham surpasses the number of those with a favorable opinion by nine percentage points.

Graham spokesman Jamal Simmons said the campaign is aware of the problem.

In South Carolina, Mr. Simmons said, Democrats are registering their dislike for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who won his seat in November. In New Hampshire, he said, Democrats are confusing Mr. Graham during telephone surveys with former Sen. Phil Gramm, a conservative Texas Republican who ran for president in 1996.

“It’s no surprise that Democrats thinking of conservative Republicans would respond unfavorably,” Mr. Simmons said. “We’re sure those numbers will change when people get to know Bob Graham of Florida.”

Democratic voters seem to have no confusion about Al Sharpton of New York. He is by far the most consistently disliked candidate in each state.

Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who lives in South Carolina, said it is too early to take any accurate measures. “Nobody in South Carolina knows who Al Sharpton is,” he said.

According to a poll of 600 likely Democrats in the state conducted by American Research Group, Mr. Sharpton was recognized by 68 percent, more than all but two of the nine candidates.

As of last month, 27 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Sharpton and 13 percent had a favorable opinion.

Among Iowa Democrats, Mr. Sharpton’s popularity is particularly low, according to a poll conducted in June by Research 2000. Thirteen percent reported a favorable opinion, and 53 percent reported an unfavorable opinion of him.

Among the leading candidates, only Mr. Dean has shown any gains in popularity among Iowa Democrats.

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