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Dean takes big lead over Kerry in N.H. poll

WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean has grabbed a 21-point lead over rival John Kerry in the latest New Hampshire poll in which voters said they prefer a take-no-prisoners Democrat to one who could oust President Bush.

The likely Democratic primary voters are realists who acknowledge that Bush is a formidable foe: Almost two-thirds, 64 percent, said they think the president probably will win reelection in 2004.

Dean, who trailed Kerry in polls earlier this year, led the Massachusetts senator 38 percent to 17 percent in the Zogby International poll conducted Aug. 23-26 and released yesterday. The poll of 501 probable primary voters has an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The survey comes as Dean has shown political strength in his fund-raising, drawn large crowds for his "Sleepless Summer" tour, and appeared in ads on New Hampshire television. The state is slated to hold its primary Jan. 27.

"Dean has spent considerable resources on TV, so it's not surprising he's increased his numbers in a very fluid electorate," Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "Kerry has long-term strengths that will stay with him throughout the winter when more voters are . . . making their final decisions."

Dean and Kerry were essentially tied in a Zogby poll in June, and the former Vermont governor held a single-digit lead in a recent poll. The latest numbers were unexpected even by Dean's campaign.

Pollster John Zogby said Dean's support was in all regions of the state, among men and women, Democrats and independents, liberals and moderates. Dean took support from another rival, Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and from undecided voters.

Gephardt, who was at 11 percent in February, dropped to 6 percent. Undecided voters fell from 29 percent to 23 percent.

Dean's ability to tap into Gephardt's support was evident in a separate New Hampshire poll. Gephardt has made health care coverage the centerpiece of his campaign, but the survey found that almost three times as many likely primary voters -- 54 percent -- associate Dean, an internist, with a health care plan than Gephardt, 18 percent. The bipartisan poll, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, found rising health care costs was the top campaign issue.

The rest of the Democratic field was in single digits in the Zogby poll. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was at 6 percent, and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who also is running ads in New Hampshire, was at 4 percent. Retired General Wesley Clark, who is considering a presidential bid, was at 2 percent, while Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio were at 1 percent. Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton were at 0 percent.

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