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Dean, Clark top Democratic choices, poll says

Bush still leads in head-to-head matchups

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean speaks at a campaign rally Monday in Pella, Iowa.
Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean speaks at a campaign rally Monday in Pella, Iowa.

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Poll finds Dean and Clark in lead for nomination.
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Democratic Party
Wesley Clark
Howard Dean
George W. Bush

(CNN) -- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean still leads retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a recent national poll, and two-thirds of Democrats say either man would be good for the party as the nominee.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll interviewed 1,003 adult Americans last weekend, including 410 registered voters who described themselves as Democrats, to gather opinions on the presidential candidates and the issues they face.

Dean was the favorite of 26 percent of Democrats polled, and Clark was 6 percentage points behind.

Dean's figure represents a pickup of 2 percentage points since the previous poll January 2-5; Clark's numbers stayed the same.

Their nearest rivals were Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, each with 9 percent, and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, with 7 percent.

The poll had an overall margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

Bush wins head-to-head matchups

At least two-thirds of Democrats said both Dean and Clark are sincere, strong leaders who share their values.

One difference: About a third of Democrats described Dean as a liberal; only one in eight described Clark that way.

Nevertheless, with Election Day still 11 months away, both Clark and Dean lag President Bush in head-to-head matchups by 14 or 15 points.

Kerry and Gephardt fared just as poorly against Bush in the poll.

One reason is that Bush's approval rating continues to remain high -- 59 percent -- down 1 percentage point since the previous poll.

Clark is seen as a strong leader by more than half of those polled -- 53 percent. About 45 percent said the same for Dean.

That has not so far translated into a better showing against Bush.

One reason might be lack of interest. The poll indicated that less than half the country is paying a lot of attention to the election.

Also, 28 percent of those interviewed said they were waiting to see who the Democrats nominate before choosing a candidate to support in the general election.

With 39 percent saying they are committed to Bush and 33 percent firmly against him, the Iowa caucuses next week, the New Hampshire primary later in the month and the other primaries are crucial to what will happen in November.

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