updated 1/23/2004 11:50:50 AM ET 2004-01-23T16:50:50

With only a few days to go until the New Hampshire primary, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry leads the pack in this edition of Demo Derby. Kerry made no major blunders in Thursday’s night’s televised debate, he touted his experience as a Vietnam veteran and he refrained from attacking Howard Dean or Wesley Clark, who appear to be his two chief rivals in New Hampshire.

Kerry has some substantial advantages going into the primary: a slim lead in public opinion polls, a sense among some rank-and-file Democrats in New Hampshire that Dean is too risky, and the inestimable help of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and her husband Bill Shaheen, both of them very wise in the ways of Granite State politics.

Dean stays in second in Demo Derby’s ranking, even though he appeared a bit dispirited on the campaign trail Thursday. Don’t underestimate the resolve and single-mindedness of Dean’s allies and supporters. On Thursday, Dean surrogate Rep. Zoe Lofgren gave a speech to New Hampshire Democrats in which she launched precision guided missiles at Kerry, Clark and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Edwards, she said, “couldn’t be re-elected in his state,” so how could he claim to be able to carry the South if he were the presidential candidate? The Bush strategists will “slice and dice” Kerry’s liberal record, she argued, and Clark was not pro-choice when he served in the Army.

Nicely poised for a comeback
By now being discounted by the pundits after his notorious Monday night “screech,” Dean is nicely poised for a dramatic comeback win in New Hampshire.

Running third is Clark, who has many admirers in New Hampshire and is drawing big and respectful crowds to his events

Edwards, having finished second in Iowa but not likely to place first or second in New Hampshire, is still aiming for his first victory in the Feb. 3 contest in South Carolina. Edwards campaign officials say his better-than-expected Iowa showing has unleashed a surge of new campaign contributions.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is running hard in New Hampshire, notwithstanding polls that show him with less than 10 percent of the vote.

In the back of the pack, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton continue to be candidates of provocative ideas, although Sharpton seemed far out of his depth when confronted with a question about the Federal Reserve in Thursday’s debate.

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