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Inside Politics

Poll: Dean starts 2004 leading Dems

Results show Clark to be strongest anti-Dean candidate

From Keating Holland

Howard Dean speaks to potential caucus voters Monday at the Floyd County Museum in Charles City, Iowa. Iowa's caucuses are set for January 19.
Howard Dean speaks to potential caucus voters Monday at the Floyd County Museum in Charles City, Iowa. Iowa's caucuses are set for January 19.

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Howard Dean
Wesley Clark
Democratic Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Howard Dean started off the year not only at the top of the pack of the nine Democratic presidential candidates, but also as the choice of about half of all registered Democrats if the race boils down to a two-way contest after the first flurry of primaries and caucuses, a CNN/Time poll said.

Among those surveyed in the poll, the strongest anti-Dean candidate is Wesley Clark, the only Democrat who keeps Dean under 50 percent in hypothetical two-way match-ups.

But even against the former NATO commander, Dean has a 46 percent to 32 percent edge among respondents, the poll found.

With Dean getting only 22 percent of the vote when all nine candidates are listed (more than double the second-place challenger), it is tempting to assume that nearly eight in 10 registered Democrats don't want Dean as their party's standard-bearer.

But Dean clobbers the opposition in "what-if" head-to-head pairings with his strongest rivals: Dean over Lieberman, 50 percent to 32 percent; Dean over Kerry 51 percent to 29 percent; Dean over Gephardt 53 percent to 28 percent.

Any way you slice it, though, Dean continues to trail George W. Bush in the general election among those polled.

Among likely voters surveyed, Bush wins 51 percent to 46 percent for Dean; only Lieberman gets that much support from likely voters in other match-ups.

One major strength for Bush: Americans surveyed say they are feeling better about things than they did last year. In November, a bare majority said that things were going well in the country; now, nearly two-thirds say they feel that way.

One note of caution: The poll was conducted on December 30 and January 1, when most Americans were still in the holiday spirit and many had not returned to work.

Polls cannot predict what will happen in an election 11 months in the future -- particularly when only a quarter of the public is thought to be paying close attention to the campaign.

The poll included interviews with 1,004 adult Americans, including 399 registered voters who described themselves as Democrats. It was conducted by telephone on December 30 and January 1.

Of them, 604 said they were likely voters. Because of weighting, that would translate into an estimated 51-percent turnout in the November general election.

The survey's questions have error margins of plus or minus 3 to 5 percentage points.

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