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Surveys Show Kerry Poised for Victory in New Hampshire Presidential Primary - 2004-01-26

Most public opinion surveys indicate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is poised for victory in Tuesday's first-in-the-nation Democratic primary in New Hampshire. If he pulls it off, the candidate who won Iowa's caucuses last week will storm out of New Hampshire undefeated in this young campaign season and become the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic nomination to face President Bush in the general election next November.

Large crowds are greeting John Kerry throughout New Hampshire.

Political polls in recent days show Senator Kerry is leading the Democratic candidates, so it seems a virtual certainty he will make a strong showing here.

He is refusing to claim frontrunner status, however, knowing that just a few weeks ago his campaign was struggling and it took a surprise win in last week's Iowa caucuses to propel him to the top of the group of seven candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.

Mark Halperin, the political director and senior analyst for the U.S. television network ABC, told VOA that of all the candidates, John Kerry is the one with momentum.

"Senator Kerry has always been strong in theory in New Hampshire. He is from a neighboring state, which has often rewarded favorite sons here and of course he is coming off a strong win in Iowa," he said. "But he had a very tough time in New Hampshire last year and it is possible, still, between now and the voting that something could happen to take him off this trajectory. But right now he is looking very strong and none of the other candidates seem to have any momentum."

Voters like winners, and Senator Kerry appears to have benefited from former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's third-place finish in Iowa and a raucous concession speech that analysts say damaged his image and badly hurt Mr. Dean's candidacy.

Hundreds of voters have been showing up for Mr. Kerry's campaign events throughout New Hampshire, as he criticizes the Bush administration's policies on post-war Iraq, taxes, health care and the environment.

"We should never leave any American behind and that is what our obligation is in this campaign," he said. "That is why I am running for President of the United States and if you will stand with me we will restore that kind of value system to our government and we will live up to our obligations and make real the promises of the United States of America."

During the Vietnam War Senator Kerry won top military honors for bravery and was wounded several times in combat. He draws strong support from many veterans like Dennis Martin, who is angry that his benefits may be cut by the Bush administration.

"John is not just about Vietnam veterans even though, as we know, he is a Vietnam vet, he is about all veterans and the problems that we are having getting our benefits cut," he said. "Another issue too I have is because we are sending $87 billion to Iraq. Believe me I am in support of the troops, God bless them and I hope they all come back safe, but the problems is, is why are we footing the whole bill? I have a problem with that."

Tom Keefe, 50, is a veteran of the Vietnam War who has known John Kerry for more than 30 years. Like the candidate, Mr. Keefe fought in Vietnam and then came home to protest against the war.

"Well I think there is a combination of factors, one of the things is leadership skills, which I have said before," he said. "In 1971 he was the anti-war demonstrator that the White House feared the most and I also feel now that this White House fears him the most. I think he has got the knowledge, the skills, and the abilities to beat President Bush, and I think it is long overdue that we get President Bush out of the White House."

Political analyst Mark Halperin told VOA Senator Kerry still faces significant challenges even if he wins a decisive victory in New Hampshire.

"Senator Kerry would face two problems even if he does win the New Hampshire primary, coupled with his win from the Iowa caucuses, that should put him in a strong position," he said. "But he has not focused very much in the last few months on the February 3rd states that vote next. He has pulled a lot of resources out of those states and put them into Iowa and New Hampshire. So he will have some ground to make up. In addition, once he wins both states, if he does, he will be seen as the clear frontrunner. The way the system works frontrunners tend to be expected to win almost everywhere and there are a lot of candidates out there with strength in some of those February 3rd states."

Those February 3 primaries in South Carolina and six other states will, for the first time, begin to test the candidate's strengths in the south.

Senator Kerry and the other leading Democrats are expected to begin campaigning in those states immediately after the New Hampshire primary.