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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Launch Effort to Win Votes - 2003-11-19

The nine Democrats running for president will spend the coming weeks campaigning in the early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa kicks off the Democratic selection process on January 19 and the New Hampshire primary follows a week later. National Correspondent Jim Malone has been in New Hampshire and reports how some Democratic candidates are trying to win over voters, one person at a time.

Hampton, New Hampshire, is well known for its beach along the Atlantic. Thousands flock here from all over New England to swim in the summertime.

But on this chilly autumn night the main attraction in town is a chance to meet presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who is about to appear at a local fire station where he will serve chili to supporters.

Local firefighter Dave Lang handles the introduction.

"And on January 27 when he wins the New Hampshire primary he is going to be on the road to the White House. What do you think of that? Ladies and gentlemen, John Kerry just walked in the room. Join me in welcoming John Kerry," he said.

About 200 people have crammed into the fire station for a bowl of chili and the chance for a 10-second or so encounter with Senator Kerry.

At one time, John Kerry was the favorite to win the New Hampshire primary and perhaps the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has emerged as the leader in New Hampshire in recent months and that has caused Senator Kerry to shake up his own campaign staff and sharpen his attacks on Mr. Dean and President Bush.

"We are here with firefighters. Well, I am a public fighter. I am somebody who is going to fight," Senator Kerry said. "I am going to fight for every vote in these next months. I am going to fight for every principle I believe in, which we share together, about the hopes and aspirations of our country. We can do better than we are doing today. We can reach out to the world. We can lead the world in creating jobs."

Kerry supporter Don Keane from nearby Hampton Falls liked what he heard.

"His leadership that has been proven. The experience that he has had in the Senate. His common sense and a lot of the things that he talks about," he said.

Earlier in the day, halfway across the state, retired Army General Wesley Clark had his chance to convince a group of New Hampshire business leaders at a political breakfast meeting near Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city.

"It is not about the war in Iraq. It is not about the economy. It is really about the future of America," he said, "and whether we are going to be a people that are pulled together by a common vision and a common humanity or whether we are going to be a nation pulled apart by divisive politics and an increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the haves and the have-nots and one party and another. Please join with me and help pull all this country together, for all of our good, and sake of all of our children and grandchildren. Thank you."

General Clark's emotional appeal caught some in the audience off-guard. Fred Koker says the Clark message could play well with New Hampshire voters.

"I was impressed with him. He is very straight forward. I think it comes straight from inside of him. I think he is running because he feels he needs to. He certainly has the credentials. I was impressed," he said.

As the retired general spoke, one of his political aides told reporters that the Clark Campaign would be happy with a third place finish in New Hampshire, behind Howard Dean and John Kerry.

This type of one-on-one campaigning will go on until the January 27 primary, giving New Hampshire voters a unique opportunity to meet and hear the candidates in person.

Back at the firehouse with John Kerry, teacher Steve Bauer says he plans to take advantage.

"People in New Hampshire are foolish not to get out and see them, you know. I mean, I could be having chili with the future president," he said.

In addition to candidates Dean, Kerry, and Clark, the Democratic contenders include Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and civil rights activist Al Sharpton.

Most of them plan on spending a lot of time in New Hampshire over the next few months.