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Polls Indicate Kerry Leads 2 Days Before New Hampshire Primary - 2004-01-25

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry appears to be consolidating his lead over his six rivals in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, just days before the crucial New Hampshire primary. Correspondent Meredith Buel is on the campaign trail and reports from the small town of Auburn, New Hampshire.

Senator Kerry continues to surge here in New Hampshire, capitalizing on his win in the Iowa caucuses and drawing big crowds to campaign events.

Some new polls show a close race for second place is developing between former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and retired General Wesley Clark.

Here in the rural New Hampshire town of Auburn, General Clark drew a large crowd in sub-freezing weather to a local firehouse and said he is the best candidate for president.

"My experience has been the experience of leadership, of pulling people together, of making the tough decisions including decisions about committing the armed forces and decisions of life and death," he said. "I have executive experience. That is why I am the better candidate. I will be the best president of the United States."

Senator Kerry Saturday collected the endorsement of a leading environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters. This is the first time the group has endorsed a candidate this early in the election cycle, and officials say they will target some 36,000 registered environmental voters in New Hampshire on behalf of the Massachusetts senator.

While Senator Kerry is clearly the front-runner in the latest polls, he remembers that just a few weeks ago he was far behind here, and is urging his supporters to keep working hard. "This is a race to the finish," he said. "There is a lot of work to be done between now and Tuesday evening."

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean continues to struggle, with most polls showing he is losing support since his third place showing in the Iowa caucuses and a raucous concession speech there.

Governor Dean is not giving up, however, and aides say he is pouring a half-million dollars into television commercials in New Hampshire over the next few days.

On the campaign trail Mr. Dean says he still has a chance to win. "Things are closing. We can win this," he said. "What we are seeing the last few days is that people that went away from us after we lost Iowa are coming back."

Whoever wins here in the nation's first primary next Tuesday is expected to get a big boost for an upcoming series of voting contests that will determine the Democratic nomination for president.