- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. John Kerry, riding the wave of popularity from his Iowa caucus win, would now beat President Bush in a head-to-head matchup, according to the latest poll.

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has left his rivals far behind in both message and standing in the opinion polls as New Hampshire Democrats and independents prepare to vote Tuesday in the Democratic presidential primary. But Mr. Kerry’s popularity apparently extends beyond just Democrats.

A Newsweek poll taken Jan. 22-23 of 1,006 registered voters nationwide found Mr. Kerry winning 49 percent support in a head-to-head matchup with Mr. Bush, who garnered 46 percent support. That’s a huge shift from just two weeks ago, when the same poll found Mr. Bush garnered 52 percent support to Mr. Kerry’s 41 percent.

Mr. Kerry was full-speed ahead yesterday, telling the crowd at a charity hockey game in Manchester he’ll fight for every vote.

“This is a race to the finish. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and Tuesday evening,” Mr. Kerry said before taking the ice with Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque and others in a game that showcased the 60-year-old candidate’s health more than his skating skills.

Joan Flurey, 55, of Manchester watched as Mr. Kerry glided around the ice in a victory lap, though his team lost the game by a point.

“For a man his age to be out there skating like that really helps answer any questions about his health,” she said. “People forget he had surgery for prostate cancer less than a year ago. And he really played hard out there.”

Mr. Kerry’s closest rival, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, hopes his own downward slide in the polls has ended and he can begin to rebuild for a strong showing Tuesday.

“Things are closing fast,” Mr. Dean said yesterday in Somersworth, N.H. “We can win this. What we are seeing in the last few days is that people who went away from us after we lost Iowa are coming back.”

Mr. Dean has ended advertising runs in several Feb. 3 states in order to concentrate on New Hampshire for the next several days, and he is hoping his organizational strength, relying heavily on young, out-of-state volunteers, can surprise observers Tuesday.

Mr. Dean also criticized the Iowa caucuses, in which he placed third. He told reporters on his campaign bus yesterday that the other campaigns “had their folks really beating up on the people who went in, trying to get them to change their minds in caucus.”

“I think Iowa is going to have to change the way it conducts its caucuses if it wants to continue to be first,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wesley Clark flipped pancakes in Auburn before heading to Portsmouth for a rally with supporters.

“I’m not running to bash George Bush, I’m running to replace him,” Mr. Clark, a former Army general, said, though in making his pitch for how he can recapture patriotism, family values and faith for the Democratic Party, he did plenty of bashing as well.

“What I don’t think patriotism is about is to dress up in a flight suit and prance around an aircraft carrier,” Mr. Clark said.

The latest University of New Hampshire tracking poll showed Mr. Kerry with 37 percent support among likely primary voters, nearly double Mr. Dean’s 19 percent. Mr. Clark polled 13 percent support, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina showed 12 percent support and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut broke into the double digits with 10 percent.

The Newsweek poll was good news for Mr. Kerry, who was the only Democrat it found beating Mr. Bush in a matchup. But every other Democrat improved his standing in a head-to-head with Mr. Bush as well.

Republican Party officials have always said they expected the Democratic candidate to top Mr. Bush in the polls this spring, thanks to the media attention given to the Democratic primary. But they had usually predicted it would be Mr. Dean at the top of the head-to-head poll, not Mr. Kerry.

With Mr. Kerry seemingly ready to capture New Hampshire, the campaigns have begun to turn their attention to the Feb. 3 primary states.

Mr. Edwards announced he is building a campaign staff in Missouri, the largest state to vote on Feb. 3. Missouri is now in play after favorite son Rep. Richard A. Gephardt dropped out of the race last week.

Mr. Kerry will head to Missouri soon after the New Hampshire primary as well.

In South Carolina, where most of the press coverage for the Feb. 3 vote has been focused, Mr. Edwards campaigned on Friday, and Mr. Clark announced he will attend a 9 p.m. concert with the band Blues Traveler in Columbia on Tuesday night, two hours after the polls close in New Hampshire.

But the campaigns will find one candidate — the Rev. Al Sharpton — already waiting for them in South Carolina. Yesterday, Mr. Sharpton’s campaign announced all of its top staff is heading to the state to try to build on its success among black voters in the District of Columbia’s nonbinding primary two weeks ago.

“We moved our senior team down here because we believe South Carolina constitutes a natural base for Sharpton and could be a major turning point in the Democratic primary,” said Sharpton campaign manager Charles Halloran.

• Charles Hurt in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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