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Voters Head to Polls in New Hampshire Primary - 2004-01-27

Voters in the northeast state of New Hampshire are heading to the polls in the next major test of the 2004 campaign for the White House.

The polls in New Hampshire indicate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is maintaining a healthy lead over his rivals for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

But Senator Kerry insists he is taking nothing for granted. On the eve of the primary he urged his campaign workers to help get out the vote.

"I have felt across the state an amazing amount of energy growing. I feel good about it," he said. "But I've been in elections before. I've never paid attention to polls. You knew what they said we were down. I say it when they say we are up."

At a polling place in downtown Manchester, several voters told VOA they voted for Senator Kerry because they thought he would be the strongest Democrat to run against President Bush in the November election.

"I thought that John Kerry was more electable and, in a sense, this is a very crude way of looking at it, I just felt that he had earned his stripes and he had been in the battles, he had fought the battles and proven his merit," said Dave Nixon, a Democrat, a Kerry supporter and the former president of the New Hampshire State Senate.

The polls indicate that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is in second place in New Hampshire, trying to rebound from a disappointing third place finish in the Iowa caucuses and a raucous concession speech that alarmed Dean supporters and critics alike.

Mr. Dean appeared on NBC's Today program.

"Well, I actually think we have a better chance than all the other candidates of beating George Bush because none of the other candidates can bring in the new people that we have brought in," he said. "I think what we need in Washington is somebody who is going to stand up and say what they think."

Manchester voter Tom Piracelli of Manchester says he is sticking with Howard Dean despite the controversy over his speech in Iowa.

"I just kind of think he is a local guy and he is a familiar face and that enthusiasm thing [Iowa speech], that was too blown up," he said. "I mean I would be pretty excited if I hadn't sleep for a couple of days and I was running for president. I'd be a little pumped."

After candidates Kerry and Dean, there seems to be a tight race here in New Hampshire for third place among three contenders - North Carolina Senator John Edwards, retired General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Senator Edwards in particular has been drawing large crowds here and has been creeping up in most opinion polls. He rallied supporters on the eve of the primary vote.

"And we are going to restore the power of this democracy to you, where it began, where it belongs," he said. "That's what this campaign is about!"

For all the attention on the Democrats here, President Bush remains popular with New Hampshire voters. He has no significant opposition in the Republican primary here but that did not stop this independent voter from coming out and voting for Mr. Bush.

"I just think there is too much whining. I think they always complain," he said. "They haven't got anything to complain about but they dig and dig and dig."

The top finishers in New Hampshire can expect a major political boost in the battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. The presidential campaign will intensify next week with seven states holding primaries including South Carolina and Missouri.