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Polls: US Democratic Presidential Candidate John  Kerry Gains Ground in Iowa

With three days to go until the official start of the 2004 presidential campaign, four Democratic contenders are battling for first place in Monday's presidential caucuses in Iowa. National correspondent Jim Malone is out on the Iowa campaign trail.

The latest polls indicate the candidate with the greatest surge at the moment is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, surpassing, for now at least, longtime favorites Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt.

But the daily polls are notably unreliable and Senator Kerry is urging his supporters to turn out in force on Monday.

"I love the process here and I think the Iowans are just so independent that the polls don't matter," he said. "So I am going to keep talking to people. I'm going to keep working. I'm a fighter."

At the moment, the Iowa vote is too close to call. Four candidates have a shot at winning, including North Carolina Senator John Edwards. The top finishers in Iowa should get a major boost heading into a heavy schedule of primaries beginning with New Hampshire on January 27.

Howard Dean has seen his lead in Iowa wither away in recent weeks. But he continues to rally his supporters by reminding them of his early opposition to the war in Iraq, a war that most of his rivals supported.

At a rally Friday, the former Vermont governor said his main rivals were too afraid to oppose President Bush on the war.

"You can't ever be afraid in a democracy. That is what this campaign is about," he said. "It is about stopping being afraid of the right wing of the Republican Party in this country. This is our country. It does not belong to the right wing of the Republican Party."

But some Democrats may be having doubts about Howard Dean. Iowa teacher Keith Ratzlaff supported Mr. Dean early on but now favors Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. He says there are questions about how well Mr. Dean would do against President Bush and about Mr. Dean's blunt speaking style.

"I think some of us are a little worried, and I'm a little worried, that he speaks without thinking," he said. "We have a president who speaks without thinking. I'm not sure we need another one of those."

Perhaps the candidate with the most at stake in the Iowa vote is Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt. Mr. Gephardt won the Iowa Caucuses when he ran for president in 1988 but ran out of money and left the race soon thereafter. Analysts say a poor finish this year would raise serious doubts about his campaign.

Congressman Gephardt is counting on union supporters to get out the vote on Monday. "I always knew this was going to be a tight race, an intense competition," he said. "We've got good candidates and everybody has been working really hard."

Congressman Gephardt and Howard Dean are cutting back on the number of negative campaign advertisements on television in the final days of the Iowa campaign.

That might be a response to the recent success of both Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards. They have focused on a positive message in their speeches and their supporters say that has led to their late rise in the polls.