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Exit poll: Kerry voters keen to beat Bush

John Kerry scored among New Hampshire Democratic voters concerned about beating President Bush, while Howard Dean edged out Kerry among those angry with the Bush administration.
2-year-old Colin McQuinlan, right, peeks at voters in a neighboring booth at the polling station of Jewett Street School in Manchester, N. H.  
2-year-old Colin McQuinlan, right, peeks at voters in a neighboring booth at the polling station of Jewett Street School in Manchester, N. H.   Chuck Kennedy / Abaca
/ Source: The Associated Press

John Kerry scored big among New Hampshire Democratic primary voters most concerned about beating President Bush in November and far outdistanced Howard Dean among moderates, the largest ideological group in Tuesday’s contest, an NBC News exit poll found.

Dean edged out Kerry among voters angry with the Bush administration and most opposed to the war in Iraq, but not by enough to undo the damage apparently caused by his screaming speech after he placed third in Iowa a week ago.

Half of Tuesday’s voters said they had made up their minds in the last week. Kerry won 51 percent of those who decided in the days immediately after Iowa, to just 15 percent for Dean.

But Dean rebounded, running about even with Kerry among those who settled on a choice in the last three days, according to the poll of 1,848 voters conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

Changes in the last month
The race shifted dramatically in the past month. Among those who made up their minds before then, Dean held a 3-2 lead over Kerry,

Six in 10 said Dean “has the temperament to serve effectively as president” and Dean far outpaced Kerry among that group, 47 percent to 27 percent.

Dean voter Gene White of Swanzey liked Dean’s spontaneity and was unfazed by his rambunctious speech in Iowa. “Every time I saw it, I started to get comfortable with it. I appreciate his passion,” White said.

But among the one-third who said Dean does not have a presidential temperament, half voted for Kerry, about 20 percent favored John Edwards and nearly all the rest split among Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman.

Edwards scores for upbeat message
In the battle for third place, Edwards won support for having a positive message. Clark drew some strength from his opposition to the Iraq war although the retired four-star general did no better among households with military veterans than those without.

In a race in which only half the voters were registered Democrats — the rest were mostly independents, who in New Hampshire can vote in either party’s primary — Lieberman did best among the relatively few voters with positive views of Bush and his policies.

One in five voters said the quality that mattered most in their decision was that their candidate can defeat Bush, and Kerry won 60 percent of their votes. Kerry, the longtime U.S. senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran, did equally well among the one in 10 who said the top quality is that “he has the right experience.”

One of those Kerry voters was Ray Nolin, 54, a lifelong Democrat from Berlin, in the frigid North Country. “I think he’s been through a lot and he has the most knowledge about the whole system,” said Nolin, who also considered voting for Clark.

About three in 10 said the top quality was that “he stands up for what he believes,” and Dean, the tough-talking former Vermont governor, won half their votes. About one in 10 said the top quality was that “he has a positive message” and they split pretty evenly among Kerry, Edwards and Dean.

Asked if they voted for their candidate more because he can defeat Bush in November or because “he agrees with you on the major issues,” a third said defeating Bush was a higher priority, and half of them favored Kerry. Dean had an edge among those who said the candidate’s stand on issues was more important.

Half are 'angry' at Bush
Fully half of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said they were “angry” about the Bush administration, and Dean edged Kerry among that group. The outcome was similar among the more than four in 10 voters who strongly disapproved of the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq.

Three in 10 voters said the issue that mattered most in their vote was health care and Medicare, and they gave Kerry an edge. Two in 10 cited economy and jobs, and they favored Kerry. Dean ran strongly among the two in 10 who said the Iraq war mattered most, but Kerry wasn’t far behind in that group.

Dean, whose campaign caught early momentum in part because of its use of the Internet, won 45 percent of those who said they frequently visited Democratic candidates’ Web sites — but only 10 percent said that.

Edwards, the U.S. senator from North Carolina, and Kerry scored the highest favorable ratings in the survey, with seven in 10 voters having a positive opinion of each. Dean, Clark and Lieberman each were viewed unfavorably by at least a third of the Democratic primary voters.