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Inside Politics

Dems gear up in New Hampshire

Both Dean and Kerry are calling themselves underdogs

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Top four in New Hampshire: Clark, Dean, Kerry, Edwards, clockwise from top left.
Top four in New Hampshire: Clark, Dean, Kerry, Edwards, clockwise from top left.

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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts lead in the latest tracking polls in New Hampshire, but both are calling themselves underdogs as they retool their campaigns in a changed political landscape.

Dean, who has dominated polls and fund raising since the summer, stumbled in Monday's Iowa caucuses, finishing a distant third to Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Dean's fiery speech to supporters at a post-caucus rally Monday night also has sparked questions among some political observers and Democrats about his temperament.

Aides said Dean, surprised but undaunted by his weak showing in a state in which he'd devoted considerable resources, would refocus his campaign on his record in Vermont and away from the red-meat, anti-war rhetoric that fueled his insurgent rise last year.

Dean lost the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. John Durkin of New Hampshire, who told CNN he is now undecided as a result of Dean's speech.

"Iowa dramatically changed the picture here," said Durkin on Wednesday. "I wish I'd turned the TV off on election night and gone to bed early. I don't know who I'm going to vote for come Tuesday."

After their candidates' unexpected strength in Iowa, the Kerry and Edwards campaigns said they've seen fund-raising spikes. Kerry aides said the senator has collected more than $300,000 since Monday; Edwards has drawn about $250,000, aides said.

Tracking polls released Wednesday indicate the Granite State is essentially a four-man race, between Kerry, Dean, Edwards and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas. Clark skipped Iowa for an anticipated showdown with Dean in the New Hampshire primary.

The polls suggest little movement for Edwards, whose support remains in single digits, a few percentage points ahead of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. But the surveys were based in large part on data gathered before the Iowa caucuses.

After Monday's caucuses, Clark added Kerry to his target list, according to campaign aides. Clark and Kerry, both decorated Vietnam War veterans, have sparred this week over who has a better military record.

"Well, he's got military background, but nobody in the race has got the kind of background I've got," Clark said of Kerry this week. "I've negotiated peace agreements, I've made a major alliance in war.

"It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer -- he's done that and I respect him for that. He's been a good senator, but I've had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom."

Polls indicate Lieberman so far has failed to make inroads in New Hampshire despite earning an endorsement Tuesday from the Manchester Union-Leader, the state's largest and most influential newspaper.

Various polls have Lieberman, who also bypassed Iowa, with support only in the single digits. Lieberman, whose strategy has focused mainly on the February 3 primaries in Southern states, said he would continue to run.

"I've said from the beginning that my goal here is to do better than expected, and I'm moving on from here, South and West," Lieberman said Wednesday.

A key opportunity for a jolt of new dynamics will come Thursday evening when all seven candidates meet in a final planned debate before Tuesday's vote.

The debate takes place at St. Anselm College in Manchester. The forum begins at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on WMUR-TV and Fox News.

The last time most voters will have seen a live performance by Dean was probably Monday night, when he belted out that call-to-arms after his third-place finish in Iowa. Dean's remarks, he later said, were influenced by his supporters' high level of enthusiasm.

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," was blunt in his assessment of Dean's speech in Iowa. "I would call that a rant," Novak said Tuesday. "I thought he was raving."

Criticism of his speech came from a site usually overflowing with praise -- his own campaign Web log, or "blog":

"Tonight, after the caucus results, Dean gave his speech to the troops. Yes, he was over the top, but he wasn't speaking to America, he was speaking to us, the Deaniacs," one writer said.

"Having said that, I feel I must say this. ... He should never broadcast a speech like that again. Never. Ever. Again."

Another critic of Dean's speech was Rep. Jim Clyburn, an influential African-American congressmen from South Carolina, one of the February 3 primary states.

Clyburn -- who has not made an endorsement following the departure Tuesday of his chosen candidate, Dick Gephardt -- said the Dean speech "was more detrimental to his campaign than his third-place finish" in the caucuses

Senior strategists say Dean does not plan to repeat that performance anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the candidate sounded characteristically defiant Wednesday morning, opening his remarks at a rally in Manchester by promising to stay the course.

"We're going to win in New Hampshire, and the way we're going to do that is by sticking to the formula that got us here, whether people think it's right or not," he said.


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