updated 1/7/2004 5:52:26 PM ET 2004-01-07T22:52:26

Wesley Clark has closed the gap with Howard Dean among Democratic voters, says a national poll taken at a time Dean had been under intense criticism from rivals.

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Dean had the support of 24 percent and Clark had the backing of 20 percent in the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll out Wednesday. The poll of 465 Democrats and those who lean Democratic had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, meaning Dean and Clark are essentially tied for the lead nationally. The poll was taken Jan. 2-5.

Dean held a 21-point lead over Clark in the poll less than a month ago. In recent weeks, Dean rivals have increased their criticism of his controversial statements, his record as governor of Vermont, and his feisty temperament.

Clark doubles among men
Clark doubled his support among men and is now the top choice among men in the poll of Democratic voters. Dean remains the top choice of women.

While the change in the national poll suggests Clark is gaining ground, the primary battle is being fought state by state. First up is Iowa on Jan. 19, where Clark is not competing, and then New Hampshire on Jan. 27, where polls indicate Clark is battling John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, for second place.

In the national Gallup poll, Kerry was at 11 percent and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman was at 10 percent. Other candidates were in single digits.

In the poll, Bush led Dean by 22 points, 59 percent to 37 percent. That’s about the same advantage Bush had over Dean in mid-December in the poll.

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