Some new public opinion polls suggest the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination is tightening.
A recent poll by the Cable News Network, USA Today newspaper and the Gallup Organization indicates that support among Democratic voters for former Vermont governor Howard Dean may be slipping a bit.
In a national survey of Democrats, Mr. Dean came in first with 24 percent followed by retired General Wesley Clark with 20 percent. That is big jump for the Clark campaign. A similar poll less than a month ago had Howard Dean leading Wesley Clark by 21 points.
At the same time, another poll in the early primary state of New Hampshire shows General Clark has pulled ahead of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry into second place, trailing Howard Dean.
Wesley Clark is not putting much effort into the January 19 presidential caucuses in Iowa and is focusing instead on the January 27 primary in New Hampshire.
"I don't pay much attention to poll numbers," he said. "All I can tell you is everywhere we have been we have had packed houses to overflow, had to change venues. People are coming up to me left and right saying, 'I used to support Dean, I used to support Kerry, but I'm coming over to you.'"
State polls indicate Howard Dean is near the top of the nine-person Democratic field in Iowa and has a solid lead in New Hampshire.
Mr. Dean says a win in the first-in-the-nation Iowa contest would be a major boost to his presidential hopes.
"If we win the Iowa Caucuses, it is a heavy upgrade shot. If we don't, it is going to be a long slog," he said.
All of the attention on Howard Dean and Wesley Clark is annoying the other Democrats in the race.
"Look, you guys (the media) need to stop talking about just the top [tier of candidates] and we need to start talking about what the race is about," said Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
Howard Dean has dominated the Democratic field over the past year largely because of his early opposition to the war in Iraq. His campaign has also excelled at organizing grassroots supporters and fundraising through the Internet.
But the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll also showed that if the election were held now, President Bush would defeat Howard Dean by a margin of 59 to 37 percent.
Political analysts believe some Democrats may be shifting their support to other candidates now because they fear Howard Dean would not be a strong candidate against President Bush.
Appearing on VOA's Encounter program, Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst here in Washington, said, "I think there are a couple of questions [about Dean]. There are questions on electibility. There are questions on whether his positions are too liberal on issues like taxes."
But Stuart Rothenberg also says that most Dean supporters appear committed to supporting him once the voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire. And he says Dean victories in the first two contests would make him the likely Democratic nominee.
"If Dean can win those first two tests, it will demonstrate a great deal of political appeal and make him very difficult to stop for the [Democratic] nomination," he said. "Not impossible, but difficult."
The Iowa and New Hampshire elections begin a process of selecting delegates for the national party conventions that will be held later this year.