A new poll taken in the early presidential contest state of New Hampshire shows former Vermont Governor Howard Dean holding a big lead over his eight rivals for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone is in New Hampshire with the candidates and has the latest on the presidential campaign.
The New Hampshire primary is not until January 27 but already the battle between former Governor Dean and the other Democratic contenders is beginning to intensify.
A new poll shows Mr. Dean with support from 44 percent of those surveyed in New Hampshire. His closest rival is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry at 23 percent. The remainder of the Democratic field is in single digits.
Six of the nine Democratic contenders took part in a candidate's forum on Tuesday in Bedford, New Hampshire. Former Governor Dean used the occasion to once again assert that he is the Democrat best positioned to take on George Bush in the general election next November.
"I don't think we can beat George Bush by trying to be a little bit like him," he said. "The way to beat George Bush is to stand up to him and call him out when he is wrong and not to worry about what the polls say."
But some of Mr. Dean's rivals are stepping up their criticism of the former Vermont governor in hopes of narrowing his lead here in New Hampshire.
Perhaps the candidate with the most at stake in the January primary is Senator Kerry. He is from neighboring Massachusetts and at one time was considered the front runner for the Democratic nomination.
"The way we are going to beat George Bush is not with any sort of plans," Sen. Kerry said. "We are going to beat him with a vision. We are going to beat him by tapping again into the American spirit that says we can do anything we put our minds to when we are challenged and asked to do it."
Another candidate trying to make some headway against Mr. Dean is Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt. Congressman Gephardt is leading Mr. Dean in public opinion polls in Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses one week before the New Hampshire primary.
Congressman Gephardt tells VOA that he will continue to try and convince Democratic voters that he has the kind of experience that will make him the best candidate to face President Bush next year.
"I helped pass the Clinton economic program that gave us the best economy in 50 years. I don't have to say, "I think I know how to do this, I hope I can do it." I did it," he said. "And so I've got real experience. I've dealt with every foreign issue. I've been in most foreign countries in the world. I've met many of the leaders in the world. I know I can work with them to solve tough international problems. This president is not doing a good job. I will."
New Hampshire's January primary is seen as a crucial step along the way to the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. The Democrats will choose their nominee at their national convention in Boston next July while the Republicans are expected to nominate President Bush for a second term in early September.