- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

The crowded field of nine in the Democratic presidential primary race appears to be narrowing to three leading candidates: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Less than six months before the start of the 2004 election season, these men are at the front of the Democratic pack in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two delegate-selection contests and often pivotal springboards in the party’s nominating process. The other Democratic candidates have poll numbers in the low single digits or barely register any support.

“It’s either Dean, Kerry or Gephardt,” said pollster John Zogby, who has been conducting a series of early polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. “I can certainly rule out anybody else.”

Of the three leading candidates, Mr. Dean is in a tie for first place in both states and seems to be generating the most energy and momentum from the party’s liberal, activist wing, which has been drawn to his antiwar message on Iraq.

For several months, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s 2000 vice-presidential nominee, has led all Democratic candidates in national polls, but he lost that lead last week to Mr. Gephardt, Newsweek reported. Mr. Gephardt, with 14 percent according to the Newsweek survey, was in a statistical tie with Mr. Lieberman, who polled 13 percent. Mr. Dean was third with 12 percent and Mr. Kerry came in fourth with 10 percent.

But pollsters say that Mr. Lieberman’s strong standing in national surveys was largely a result of his broader name recognition and that it did not reflect his weak showing in most state-by-state contests. “He is almost an asterisk in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Republican pollster Robert Moran.

Mr. Gephardt, with 21 percent, and Mr. Dean, with 20 percent, are neck and neck in Iowa, with Mr. Kerry registering 18 percent, said a Harstad Research poll of Democrats who voted in the 2000 Iowa caucuses.

“In New Hampshire, Kerry and Dean are close and Gephardt is a distant third,” Mr. Zogby said. “It’s hard for me to see Lieberman in all of this.”

Registering in the middle to low single digits were all of the other Democratic candidates: Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

Even though the number of viable Democrats apparently has shrunk, no clear front-runner has emerged. Many Democrats say they are dissatisfied with the remaining choices, according to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducts the Granite State Poll.

The university poll — taken between June 17 and July 6 — found that most Democrats in New Hampshire were undecided or favored another candidate: “Although she is not a candidate, 14 percent of likely Democratic primary voters prefer New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, 3 percent prefer retired General Wesley Clark, and almost one-third, 30 percent, are undecided.”

Moreover, many Democrats expressed little or no confidence “they can win in November” — 42 percent of New Hampshire Democrats thought Mr. Bush would win, 38 percent said the Democratic nominee would win and 20 percent had no opinion.

Meantime, polling analysts say that each of the leading Democratic candidates has his own unique problems to overcome if he is to capture the nomination.

“The problem with Kerry is not only who is he but where does he really stand. He has carved out a position on the war that has run the gamut from supporting the congressional war resolution to condemning the war,” Mr. Zogby said.

“Gephardt, with his experience on the campaign trail, connections in the House and labor’s tentative backing, could also be considered a front-runner, but his more-hawkish stance on the war in Iraq and his failure to win back the House for the Democrats may make him yesterday’s news,” said Mr. Moran, vice president of Fabrizio McLaughlin.

“And then there is Dean, the wild card that is quickly building momentum on the left. In short, this nomination is up for grabs and the candidates are going to tear each other apart to get it,” Mr. Moran said.


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