JOHN KERRY SPEAKS AT CAMPAIGN EVENT AT EXETER ACADEMY IN EXETER NEW HAMPSHIRE
Mike Segar  /  Reuters
Senator John Kerry speaks to students and local citizens at the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. on Wednesday.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/23/2004 11:52:19 AM ET 2004-01-23T16:52:19

The New Hampshire primary next Tuesday is likely to further cull the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls. In 2000 when there were battles on both the Republican and Democratic sides, the New Hampshire outcome prompted the exit of GOP contenders Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes, as well signaling the end of the road for Democrat Bill Bradley.

The Granite State primary will be something more than a purely Democratic affair, because in New Hampshire any of the state’s 260,000 independents (nearly 40 percent of the total number of registered voters) can go to the voting place next Tuesday, register as a Democrat and vote for one of the Democratic contenders.

In a new MSNBC/ Reuters Zogby Poll  released Thursday Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., enjoys a lead over former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean by three points, 27 percent to 24 percent.

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark is in third place in the Zogby survey with 15 percent, followed by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 8 percent and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman with 6 percent.

With Democratic hopefuls campaigning across the state Wednesday and with a televised debate slated for Thursday night on WMUR, the station that broadcasts across much of the state, here’s an assessment of what each contender needs to accomplish before the voters cast their ballots next week:

Dean: A core premise of the former Vermont governor’s campaign was that he could attract 3 or 4 million new voters to the polls to vote for the Democrats in November. Dean said with him at the top of the ticket, the Democrats could win back the House and Senate.

But can Dean really attract alienated non-voters?

This week in Iowa, despite an influx of out-of-state volunteers, more than 70 days of personal campaigning by Dean, thousands of phone calls to ostensible Dean supporters, and one of the heaviest TV and radio advertising blitzes in Iowa political history, Dean finished a weak third with only 18 percent.

Only three weeks ago Dean was giving interviews in which he mused about the factors he’d use in selecting a vice presidential running mate (“Geography matters. Electoral votes matter,” he told Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report). He was talking publicly about what he wanted do in his second term as president.

He and the news media had gotten absurdly ahead of reality. Now, rejected by a majority of Iowa Democratic caucus participants, Dean must finish first in New Hampshire in order to rebuild his campaign’s credibility.

Dean’s screaming speech of defiance on Monday night will make the task harder. In the WMUR debate he will need to remain unflappable and statesmanlike, but can’t remain so subdued that he fades into the background while other contenders spar with each other.

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Kerry: Getting the bounce out his upset win in Iowa, Kerry can use the debate and the next few days of campaigning to drive home the argument that he deserves to be the party’s nominee.

“If Kerry can take away the war issue from Dean in New Hampshire, like he did in Iowa, he will take a lot of the life out of the Dean campaign,” said Rich Killion, a pollster at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. “He will start the flow of money into his campaign, the interest of super-delegates in follow-on states, and a huge dose of momentum to carry him through the South."

Clark: The retired general has never run for any elective office and has voted Republican in the past. At a campaign appearance Wednesday night before about 500 people in Rochester, N.H., Clark demonstrated both his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

He spoke passionately about what he sees as the overextension of the military by the Bush administration.

“This administration is breaking the volunteer force,” the former NATO commander said, “Their foreign policy in Iraq has taken us into a situation where we have put our volunteer force concept at the greatest risk it’s ever been at.”

But when a question on education came from one woman in the audience, Clark offered superficial, boosterish comments.

“Teaching is a leadership experience,” he said. “You’ve got to engage young minds, get them enthusiastic…. That’s what teaching is, it's leadership.”

He added that “teachers need to be empowered, they need to be coached and developed, and they need to be paid what they’re worth.”

Clark has handled himself capably enough in previous Democratic debase but Thursday’s event is the time for a closing argument that seals the deal for voters leaning toward Clark.

Edwards: The North Carolina senator’s fundraising has been buoyed by his remarkably strong second place finish in Iowa.

For Edwards, New Hampshire can't be ignored, but it is a sideshow to the contests on Feb. 3. Edwards campaign sources predict that the South Carolina primary on Feb. 3 will be the first Edwards win of the campaign season.

A crucial question for Edwards is: in what condition does Clark emerge from next Tuesday's primary? If Clark were a winner or a very close second here in New Hampshire, he would gain renewed strength to fight Edwards in South Carolina and the rest of Dixie.

Lieberman: Like Edwards, Lieberman has his eye on the Feb. 3 array of contests. His campaign hopes to win at least a few of the Feb 3 contests, which include primaries In Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Vying for some of the moderate and conservative voters that Clark hopes to draw, Lieberman fired a shot at his rival this week.  “I didn’t fall out of nowhere into this campaign,” Lieberman said.  “You don’t have to guess who I am or wonder what I’ll do as president.”

But despite active campaigning in New Hampshire, Lieberman’s poll numbers in the Granite State are puny.

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