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Kerry: New Hampshire win would be 'enormous'

Sen. John Kerry kisses a supporter Tuesday outside a polling station in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Sen. John Kerry kisses a supporter Tuesday outside a polling station in Manchester, New Hampshire.

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Watch CNN-USA's ongoing extensive coverage of the results of the New Hampshire presidential primary, to stay up to the minute on all the candidates' reactions and plans.
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John F. Kerry
Democratic candidates
America Votes 2004
Presidential primaries

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- With voting under way in New Hampshire, Sen. John Kerry -- who still rejects the front-runner label -- said a win Tuesday in the first state Democratic presidential primary would be a major boost to his campaign.

Kerry, who surged to a surprising victory in last week's Iowa caucuses, said, "This is the comeback trail. If I win here, I think that's enormous."

A CNN/USA Today/ Gallup Poll conducted Saturday and Sunday found Kerry leading the Democratic presidential field with 36 percent of voters surveyed.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean followed with 25 percent, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark was in a virtual tie for third place with Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The senator from Massachusetts also took aim at Dean over his comments questioning Kerry's judgment for voting against the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and for backing a 2002 Senate resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

"Mr. Dean is completely wrong," Kerry told CNN's "American Morning."

He complained Dean had promised a few days ago to "stop running a negative attack campaign."

"Within two days, he attacked [Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan, he attacked every single candidate, he's attacked me," Kerry said, referring to Dean's criticism that Greenspan made decisions that were "too political." (Dean later said he had no desire to get rid of the chairman if he were president.)

Also in an appearance on "American Morning," Dean said Kerry will have to learn to be tough if he's going to remain at the top of the polls.

"I was the front-runner in this race for a long time," Dean said. "Everybody threw everything they could at me. One of the things John will have to learn as a front-runner is to stop whining when people say something different about him."

Of his vote in 1991, Kerry said he believed force may have ultimately been necessary when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, but the United States needed to wait another month or two to build support at home.

"Nobody voted precisely for a war [in 2002]," he said. "They voted for a process. They voted to go to the U.N. They voted to build an international coalition that was legitimate, voted to have inspections exhausted and voted to go to war as a last resort, which is what the president promised us. The president broke every single one of those promises, not to mention misled America with respect to the intelligence, which we now all know.

"So I believe that Mr. Dean is completely wrong, that I stood up for the security and the common sense with respect to the soldiers who fight wars."

Emphasizing his record as a Vietnam veteran who fought against that war once he returned home, Kerry said, "I've been one of those soldiers. I know what it means when you lose the consent and legitimacy of the American people in a war.

"And as a president, I think there is a special test as to when you send young American men and women off to fight and die. I know that test, and as president, I will live up to the highest standard with respect to that."

Kerry had complained earlier this week that Dean's tax plan and foreign policy are "just going to kill us."

Defending his critical comments about Dean, Kerry said his opponent's plan would raise taxes on middle-class families who are "already suffering enough."

Dean has said his plans to cut the payroll tax and wipe out President Bush's tax plan would relieve the financial burden on the middle class.

Kerry said he planned to work to reach voters "right up until the polls close" in New Hampshire, touting his "35 years of experience fighting powerful interests and standing up for people on the domestic agendas" as well as in foreign policy, national security and military affairs.

Asked if a narrow victory would be disappointing, he replied, "I'll take one point, given where the campaign was judged to be by most people in the media a couple of months ago. I think we've got a lot of energy here."

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