Story Highlights• New poll has Sen. Hillary Clinton leading among New Hampshire Democrats
• New York Democrat's lead has grown since Democratic presidential debate
• New Hampshire primary voters view Clinton as strongest leader
• Sen. Barack Obama viewed as more likeable than Clinton
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Where do things stand with New Hampshire Democrats since the Democratic presidential candidates debated in Manchester June 3?
The CNN/WMUR/New Hampshire Union Leader debate did exactly what it was supposed to do. It helped the New Hampshire voters sort out the candidates.
In early April, New Hampshire Democrats were all over the place. The front-runners -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois; and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- were closely matched. Clinton was at 27 percent, Edwards was at 21 percent and Obama was at 20 percent. It was essentially a jump ball. (Interactive: Poll results)
Who jumped highest after the debate? Clinton. According to a new CNN/WMUR poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters released Monday, the New York senator has surged into the lead, with 36 percent support. Obama has held fairly steady at 22 percent, while Edwards has lost support. He's now at 12 percent. (Read the complete poll results -- PDF)
The debate got another player into the game -- Bill Richardson, whose support has reached 10 percent.
The poll involved telephone interviews with 309 New Hampshire adults who plan to vote in the Democratic primary January 22, 2008. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 6 percentage points.
The picture gets a little clearer if we assume Al Gore will not run. Clinton leads New Hampshire with 39 percent, followed by Obama with 24 percent, Edwards with 14 percent and Richardson with 11 percent.
'Leadership' sets Clinton apart
Clinton seems to have impressed Democrats by taking charge in the debate. "The differences among us are minor," Clinton said. "The differences between us and the Republicans are major."
Asked which candidate is the strongest leader, Democrats picked Clinton, hands down. None of the others come close.
But can she be elected? Democrats think so. They see Clinton as the candidate with the best chance of beating the Republicans next year.
Do Democrats think she's likeable? Not really. Clinton runs third on likability. Obama comes across as the most likable Democrat.
Here's how he answered a question about making English the official language: "When we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people."
Edwards may have lost points because he criticized other Democrats. "Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama did not say anything about how they were going to vote until they appeared on the floor of the Senate and voted," Edwards said about the Iraq war funding bill during the debate. "They were among the last people to vote."
Richardson may have gained points because he sounded firm and decisive.
"First day as president, I would shut down Guantanamo," Richardson said during the debate. "I would shut down Abu Ghraib and secret prisons. That is the moral authority that we don't have."
The key factor behind Clinton's lead? Women. Clinton leads Obama by two to one among Democratic women. Among Democratic men, Clinton and Obama are just about tied.
For Democrats, the war in Iraq overwhelms all other issues. Fifty-seven percent of New Hampshire Democrats say Iraq is the most important issue for their vote. That's up from 39 percent in April. Even though she has drawn some criticism in the past from anti-war activists, Clinton's lead is just as strong among Democrats whose top concern is Iraq as it is among Democrats concerned about other issues.
According to a new CNN poll, Sen. HIllary Clinton is surging ahead of Sen. Barack Obama.
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