Monday, September 1, 2003

The Labor Day weekend traditionally involves heavy presidential politicking, but a poll released yesterday shows Democrats are off to a sluggish start as a large majority of voters are unable to name a single candidate.

Half of those surveyed in the CBS News poll also said they wanted more choices than the current nine-candidate field was offering, and two-thirds could not name one of the Democratic presidential candidates unprompted.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut leads the poll with 14 percent, followed by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri with 11 percent and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean with 10 percent. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts dropped significantly in this poll, in which he was tied with Al Sharpton at 5 percent. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida scored 4 percent.

The poll — showing no broad support for any candidate and a widespread lack of knowledge of the field — comes at a time of increased talk about late entries into the Democratic race.

Much of the speculation surrounds former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who reportedly will meet soon with her pollsters, her fund-raisers and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to discuss her prospects in a White House run.

However, Mrs. Clinton, now representing New York in the Senate, said Friday that she was “absolutely ruling it out.”

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, meanwhile, continues to be pulled into a draft movement in the manner of his hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, this week’s Newsweek reports.

He says he has “recon out there” and “scoffs at the notion that it is too late,” the magazine reports.

Some declared Democratic candidates barely had any support. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had 2 percent. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois — endorsed last week by the National Organization for Women — received 2 percent and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio had 0 percent.

The poll of 775 registered voters was taken Aug. 26 to 28 and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. It was reported by the Associated Press. Voters gave their candidate preferences after pollsters provided the names of the declared candidates.

Appearing yesterday on different political talk shows, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Kerry took separate sides on the war in Iraq.

Mr. Kerry voted for a resolution authorizing the war but later maintained that he was misled by President Bush on the case for going to war.

“If John Kerry, or anyone else who voted for the war resolution, thinks that they were misled in a way that makes them think they voted the wrong way in supporting the war, they have an obligation to say exactly in what way they were misled,” Mr. Lieberman said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Otherwise, they’re sending again a message that I would call ambivalent,” Mr. Lieberman said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Kerry said he did not regret his vote authorizing force in Iraq, but that Mr. Bush’s “credibility is tarnished, badly tarnished.”

“My regret is that the president of the United States didn’t do what he said he would. He told us that he would go as a matter of last resort, not true. He told us he was going to build a real international coalition, not true. They told us that there were unmanned vehicles that were able to fly — they even showed photographs. Not true — we haven’t found them anyway,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Lieberman said that delaying the war until the French or Germans joined was not a “fair critique.”

“And in this case, I agree with what Governor Dean has said of Senator Kerry, which is you can’t vote for the war and then come out and criticize it in a way that seems to say that you weren’t actually for it,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Both Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Kerry took shots at Mr. Dean, who was leading in fund raising and in the polls in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Dean would lead Democrats back into a “political wilderness.”

“The American people want a leader … who will protect them in a dangerous world,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Kerry accused Mr. Dean of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class and criticized his lack of national leadership.

“This is a time for tested leadership for America,” Mr. Kerry said.

A Zogby International poll conducted Aug. 23 to 26 in New Hampshire showed Mr. Dean with 38 percent, Mr. Kerry with 17 percent and Mr. Lieberman with 6 percent.

An Iowa poll conducted Aug. 25 to 27 by KCCI-TV of Des Moines and KIMT-TV of Mason City showed Mr. Dean leading with 25 percent, Mr. Kerry with 16 percent and Mr. Lieberman with 12 percent support. Mr. Gephardt was running just behind Mr. Dean, with 21 percent.

Mr. Kerry said “summertime is not when presidential races are won” and dismissed the polls.

Another Zogby poll compared Mr. Kerry’s and Mr. Dean’s campaign styles, and said the senator from Massachusetts lacked focus. Mr. Kerry said he planned to change that by increasing his national profile.

“We are coming out this week, I am going to reach out to the country and be as clear as a bell about the leadership that I offer — the strength and the vision that I offer for our country. And my vision, I think, is stronger and better than Howard Dean’s,” Mr. Kerry said.

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