US Senator John F. Kerry is facing a serious challenge from Democratic rival Howard Dean in Massachusetts, according to a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV survey of likely voters in the state's presidential primary.
The poll shows Dean getting 27 percent of the 400 likely Democratic primary voters, with Kerry receiving 24 percent. The two are far ahead of seven other candidates, with retired Army General Wesley K. Clark running a distant third with 6 percent.
Because the poll's margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points, Kerry and Dean are in a statistical tie in the race for the state's March 2 presidential primary.
But that Kerry apparently cannot hold off Dean in his own home state is a reflection of the deep political problems faced by the senator, whose campaign for the Democratic nomination has been hit with internal turmoil and criticism that the candidate has failed to ignite any passion.
The Globe/WBZ survey echoes a University of Massachusetts poll taken early last week, in which Dean held a six-point lead among Bay State primary voters over Kerry. Dean was backed by 29 percent of the 400 Democrats and independents who were surveyed in the UMass poll, while Kerry got 23 percent.
The UMass survey also shows that Dean runs slightly stronger against President Bush, leading 58 percent to 34 percent. Kerry leads Bush by 56 percent to 38 percent.
Gerry Chervinsky, president of KRC Communications Research, which took the Globe/WBZ poll Nov. 19-22, said Kerry's support is particularly weak among independent voters, who have in the recent past played a large role in the outcome of presidential primaries in the Bay State.
While Kerry runs ahead of Dean among registered Democrats -- 28 percent to 22 percent -- the senator trails by a wide margin -- 36 percent to 14 percent -- among independents, according to the Globe/WBZ polls.
"Kerry's problem is with unenrolled voters, who four years ago strongly supported Republican John McCain," said Chervinsky, referring to the 2000 GOP Massachusetts presidential primary in which the Arizona senator trounced rival George W. Bush.
Chervinsky said that those same independents appear to be drawn to Dean, and if they flock in heavier than expected numbers to the Democratic primary, Kerry may be hard pressed to hold off the former Vermont governor on his own turf.
Kerry has struggled to reenergize his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two weeks ago, he fired his campaign manager, Jim Jordan, and saw several top aides leave as a result. He has spent the last several days launching a major push in New Hampshire and Iowa to jump-start his candidacy with a new energetic and aggressive style.
He gave a major speech in Concord, N.H., and is leading bus tours and airing ads attacking Bush in both states. Kerry trails Dean in New Hampshire by double-digit margins.
Still, Massachusetts Democratic primary voters surveyed in the Globe/WBZ poll think Kerry's candidacy is viable, despite his stumbling. Some 46 percent agreed that his campaign is moving forward even though he has faced recent rough spots. Twenty-five percent say his candidacy is floundering and he should drop out.
Those who favor Dean, in follow-up interviews after the poll, said that Kerry's lack of a clear message and his general demeanor have hurt him. They seemed drawn to Dean's aggressive style.
Dan Patenaude, 47, of East Falmouth, said he has always supported Kerry in previous elections. But at this stage, Dean strikes him as the candidate with the most forthright manner -- a key quality when he considers presidential candidates, Patenaude said.
"It's more his manner than his positions," Patenaude, a guidance counselor at Mashpee High School, said of Dean. "He presents himself very well, and he looks like a man of integrity. He's not afraid to state what he feels."
Kathy Kacavich of Natick, who runs a day-care center out of her house, said Dean's message is the only one that's broken through to her in this early stage. She said she isn't familiar with most of the issues, but said something about Kerry rubs her the wrong way.
"Maybe it's his face, he just looks like an old teacher," said Kacavich, 47. "So far, I haven't listened to anybody else yet, but what Dean has to say is alright."
Those surveyed criticized Kerry's seeming equivocation about the war. He had voted for the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq, though has since criticized the president for how he has handled the war, and voted against the administration's request for $87 billion for reconstruction.
Cornelius Hastie, a 72-year-old registered Democrat, said he sees Dean as in the mold of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy more than Kennedy's Bay State Senate colleague.
Hastie said he admired Dean's willingness to stake out positions clearly in his opposition to the war in Iraq.
"He's got unequivocal opposition to American aggression, to an unprovoked war," said Hastie, a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Jamaica Plain. "John Kerry is not Teddy Kennedy. He doesn't take a strong, principled stand. Consistently, Teddy Kennedy takes principled stands, and Howard Dean does the same."
But Kerry's style also seems to stir resentment among voters, even those Democrats who should agree with his positions. Joseph Kalesnik, a 62-year-old Democrat, said he has never felt fully comfortable with Kerry's manner, and said he was concerned by the turmoil inside his campaign as well. Dean, he said, strikes him as forthright, "half-arrogant and half-cocky," but in a positive way that suggests he'd be a strong candidate to take on Bush.
"Dean has come out and said some things, and he hasn't backed away from them," said Kalesnik, a retired postal supervisor who lives in Westfield. "Kerry always gives you this thing where he talks over you. There's something about him that says, when you sit in the car, you sit in the back, and he's up front."
Kerry's support is weakest among men and college-educated voters. Dean holds a 27 percent to 20 percent lead among men, but the two run even -- each getting 26 percent -- among the women in the survey.