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Poll: Support for Clark ebbing

Democrats warming to liberal as candidate, survey shows

Support for retired Gen. Wesley Clark has eroded.
Support for retired Gen. Wesley Clark has eroded.

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(CNN) -- The small boom of support for retired Gen. Wesley Clark, which pushed him to the front of national polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, appears to be ebbing, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

The poll released Monday also shows former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean with a slim lead over Clark for the 2004 election, while Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt is benefiting from an uptick in popularity.

It also showed that the Democratic mood may be swinging to the left, with 39 percent of registered Democrats now saying they would prefer a liberal nominee. Back in August, just 27 percent wanted a liberal standard-bearer to face President Bush next November.

Support for a moderate nominee rather than a liberal among Democrats is down to 53 percent, compared to more than two-thirds in August.

Among registered Democrats queried about their 2004 choices, 15 percent chose Clark, down from 21 percent who expressed support for him in early October, when he led the field less than a month after joining the race.

In the latest poll, Dean was in first place, with 16 percent support, just a whisker ahead of Clark and within the poll's margin of error.

As Clark's support has eroded, Gephardt appears to have been the primary beneficiary, rising to 12 percent in the latest national poll, compared to 8 percent earlier in the month. The former House Democratic leader is also running neck-and-neck with Dean in polls in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the nominating season in January.

Following Dean and Clark in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll were Gephardt and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, both at 12 percent, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts at 10 percent, down from 13 percent earlier in the month. The remaining candidates in the nine-person field were in single digits.

The margin of error for the poll questions about the Democratic race was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll also shows President Bush's job approval rating at 53 percent, compared to 42 percent who disapproved. In a hypothetical match-up with an unnamed Democrat, Bush is the choice of 46 percent, while the president's rival was picked by 43 percent.

The margin of error for the poll questions about Bush was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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