- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The nine-member field of Democratic presidential candidates has been effectively whittled down to about three or four top contenders in the early nominating contests, with everyone else nearly off the radar screen.

Democratic strategists say it will be difficult for anyone to catch up to Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses, where the former House Democratic leader has widened his lead to 25 percent or more. His closest rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, trails behind in second place with 13 points, according to pollster John Zogby.

None of the other candidates is running even close to the two front-runners in the state.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was catapulted into contention earlier this year as a result of his opposition to the war in Iraq, has fallen back in the caucus state, drawing around five points. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut doesn’t fare much better than that.

Freshman Sen. John R. Edwards of North Carolina is “barely on the radar screen” in Iowa, Mr. Zogby said. The rest of the candidates, including former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, civil rights activist Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, are at 1 percent or 2 percent or register no support at all.

For months, the political contest in the Jan. 24 New Hampshire primary race has largely been between two candidates, both next door neighbors: Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dean. The race there had been virtually tied for months, but Mr. Kerry has pulled ahead in recent surveys since the end of the war took away one of Mr. Dean’s biggest vote-getting issues.

Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Lieberman follow behind them, with the rest of the field registering 1 percent or less.

“The race in New Hampshire is coming down to a battle between … Kerry, Dean, Gephardt and Lieberman. Everyone else is way back or out of the picture,” said an adviser to the Gephardt campaign.

Nationally, Mr. Lieberman, the party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee, runs well ahead of his Democratic rivals as a result of his much stronger name recognition. He polled 19 percent in a national survey of 900 registered Democratic voters earlier this month by the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut. Mr. Gephardt was second with 14 percent and Mr. Kerry drew 12 percent. All the rest were in the low single digits, with 29 percent saying they were undecided.

An even larger percentage of Americans, 29 percent, named Mr. Lieberman as their choice in a Washington Post/ABC News poll at the end of April.

But Mr. Lieberman, a former chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, is the most conservative Democrat in the party’s lineup and does not do well among the Democrats’ liberal activist base, which plays a disproportionate role in the caucuses and primary contests.

This is why Mr. Gephardt, with his strong ties to organized labor; Mr. Kerry, who has compiled one of the most liberal career voting records in the Senate; and Mr. Dean, who ran as his party’s anti-war candidate, are among the early leaders at this point.

However, Mr. Lieberman’s strategists say he will do better in the later Southern primaries that follow the New Hampshire contest, beginning on Feb. 3 in South Carolina, where an American Research Group poll in late April showed him leading the pack with 19 percent.

Meantime, seven of the nine candidates appeared yesterday at a forum sponsored by Emily’s List, which gives money to female Democratic candidates vowing to promote abortion rights in their judicial appointments.

“Every month this president is in the White House, a woman’s right to choose is in jeopardy,” said Mr. Edwards.

“The Supreme Court is at stake in this race as never before in modern memory,” said Mr.Kerry.

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