It's September and the Democratic presidential hopefuls are off to the races for their party's nomination. will record their campaign successes and debacles on a regular basis here in "Demo Derby" to give  our readers a running handicap of who's riding high and who may be about to get bucked out of the saddle. In our inaugural version, his surging momentum makes Howard Dean the obvious pick.

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Dismissed early as a crotchety, "too liberal" entry from an irrelevant state, the feisty former Vermont governor has sprinted into the indisputable position of frontrunner for his party's presidential nomination. In the eyes of pundits across the nation, and the editors of, Dean's lead has hardened thanks to a number of factors.

First, there was the news that he had surged to a 21-point lead over Sen. John Kerry in the latest numbers from New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary, where likely voters in a Zogby Poll prefer Dean by 38 percent to 17 percent for Kerry and just single digits for all other entrants. That's a stunning reversal from Kerry's 13-point advantage in February and their dead tie in June.

In Iowa, where caucuses precede the New Hampshire voting and the poll numbers aren't as fresh, Dean still had surged into the lead in early August with 23 percent to Rep. Richard Gephardt's 21 percent, 14 percent for Kerry and 10 percent for Sen. Joe Lieberman. On the money front, Dean's camp expects to raise more than $10 million this quarter, better than any Democrat has done since Bill Clinton in 1995.

And he'll waste no time spending it in a frantic scramble to keep the momentum building, popping for $1 million worth of television ads in six early primary states, fielding paid staff members in 13, and barnstorming the country in efforts like this week's "Sleepless Summer Tour." 

And then there's the matter of the continuing American casualty count in Iraq, which plays neatly into Dean's original "brand" as the antiwar candidate. At a time when polls show that more and more Americans are beginning to question President Bush's post-war plans, it can't hurt to be recalled as a staunch opponent of attacking in the first place, despite the fact that Dean himself has the same ideas as many Democrats on how to proceed now.

So Dean is the strong leader. Vying hard for No. 2 are Kerry and Gephardt by virtue of their poll positions in New Hampshire and Iowa. Call Lieberman No. 4 and the rest of the field also-rans.

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