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Gephardt surges into close No. 2 spot

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean remains in the lead in MSNBC’s handicapping of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but Rep. Dick Gephardt places a close second.
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“So what’s all this fuss about Wesley Clark?” viewers might have wondered after watching the CNBC debate on Thursday. The retired four-star general wasn’t the star of the debate but he didn’t get laughed off the stage either. His resume is unique for a Democratic contender but his ideas seemed to be those of just another Democrat. At this point, our MSNBC Demo Derby places Clark a modest fourth in the running. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is in the lead but a scorching attack on him by Dick Gephardt shows that the Missouri congressman is determined to defeat Dean. Gephardt places a close second behind Dean in our ranking. Not only did he attack Dean he coolly stared him down in the fracas.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ranks third, on the strength of his newly invigorated campaign trail performance and his de facto alliance in the CNBC debate to try to topple Dean. Kerry has come up with a snappy sound bite to attack Dean’s proposal to undo the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts - some of which put money in the pockets of middle-class parents with kids.

“Last time I looked, the problem in America was not that the middle class has too much money.”

Clark and Joe Lieberman rank behind Kerry: Clark has potential, but will need to come up with some rhetoric more original than “Home ownership is critical in this country.”

Lieberman seemed to be marking time in the CNBC debate. He laid off Dean, a change from the Sept. 4 Albuquerque debate.

None of the rest of the pack has showed signs of breaking out. Kucinich continues to offer the most provocative ideas, such as cutting the Pentagon budget and rolling the eligibility age for Social Security benefits back to 65 (The age is gradually moving up to 67).