updated 12/22/2003 1:13:33 PM ET 2003-12-22T18:13:33

Howard Dean appears to be gaining strength in the Democratic presidential race in South Carolina, according to a poll that suggests the race remains competitive in the state with a Feb. 3 primary.

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Dean was at 16 percent in the poll released Monday by the American Research Group of Manchester, N.H. Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton were at 12 percent and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was at 11 percent. While Dean appears to have a slight lead, the poll suggests the race is wide open.

Edwards had a slight lead in a Pew Research Center poll in November.

The ARG poll had a sample with 39 percent of respondents who were black, about the same as the makeup of the sample in the Pew poll. Blacks could make up from 40 percent to half of a Democratic primary turnout in South Carolina.

But Dean, who holds a big lead in New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary, almost doubled his South Carolina support from November in the ARG poll, from 9 percent to 16 percent. The poll found that those in the poll were more aware of Dean than in past polls and view him more favorably.

Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt was at 7 percent, Carol Moseley Braun was at 3 percent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was at 2 percent, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich was at 1 percent. Three in 10 in the poll, 29 percent, said they remain undecided.

The poll of 600 likely primary voters was taken Dec. 17-21 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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