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In N.H., what a difference a week makes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Survivors of last night's Iowa caucuses will be hitting the icy ground here today to find a vastly different state than the New Hampshire of just a week ago, with Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark surging and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean scrambling to retain his front-runner status.

Kerry, a four-term senator from neighboring Massachusetts, hopes to parlay his smashing come-from-behind victory in Iowa into the kind of political momentum that until last week had eluded him in the Granite State.

And Dean, who led here by a seemingly insurmountable 25 percentage points not long ago, must quickly recover from Iowa, where he ran a dismal third behind Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. He will be fighting to hang on to what the most recent polls show to be a high single-digit lead with barely a week to go until this state's first-in-the-nation primary Jan. 27.

Edwards is running well behind his rivals here, polls show, but his strong second-place Iowa finish, which was almost as stunning as Kerry's win, could give New Hampshire voters a reason to rethink his candidacy.

Voters here also will have one less major candidate to consider as they make their final decisions in the coming week. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the 14-term House veteran from Missouri and former House Democratic leader, quit the race after finishing fourth in Iowa. He was running sixth in New Hampshire.

The Iowa results transformed the contest here - until recently a stagnant one with Dean far in the lead, and Kerry and Clark a distant second and third - into wide-open race.

"It becomes a real free-for-all," said Dante J. Scala, a political science professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester. "New Hampshire was basically the equivalent of a frozen pond for weeks."

Now, Scala said, "the ice has broken."

Kerry has gained dramatically in polls here in the past week, and his first-place showing in Iowa makes it likely that he will get a second chance to make his case to New Hampshire voters.

For Dean, Iowa's results could prove a serious blow, depriving him of any bounce heading to New Hampshire and forcing him to battle for every vote in a state where until recently he was leading comfortably, at times overwhelmingly.

Less than two hours into the caucuses last night, Dean seemed to suggest that he was grateful even to have made it into the top three in Iowa, telling CNN, "I guess that means we're winnowed in." As for New Hampshire, he added, "It's a new day - a new state." At another point, he said, "On to New Hampshire."

A statewide American Research Group tracking poll conducted over the weekend showed Kerry and Clark tied for second here - with 19 percent and 20 percent, respectively - closing in on Dean at 28 percent.

Clark, who skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire and has enjoyed a surge here this month, seemed ready to engage in some political hand-to-hand combat with his newly arrived opponents, especially Kerry. As preliminary results showed Kerry in first place in Iowa last night, Clark fired a zinger at the senator via CNN, telling Larry King, "I'm not worried about John Kerry or anybody else. ... With all due respect, he's a lieutenant, I'm a general."

Clark has been wooing voters here by promoting himself as an electable leader in a field of typical politicians. Now he must grapple with an onslaught of criticism from his Democratic foes. The success in Iowa for Kerry, who served in Vietnam and has substantial grass-roots backing among veterans groups, gives him the political heft to credibly challenge the retired general on national security issues.

Last night, Kerry predicted that voters in New Hampshire will respond to his views on domestic matters. He then added: "At the same time, we need a leader who can make Americans safer in the world."

Kerry hopes to revitalize his campaign here in his own back yard, where it has sparked little of the excitement it generated in Iowa. Once seen as the native New England son who could easily do well here, Kerry has had to scramble to appeal to New Hampshire voters even as crowds in Iowa greeted him warmly.

In recent days, some of the sparkle that surrounded Kerry in Iowa seemed to be rubbing off on New Hampshire voters, as statewide polls have shown him gaining. Still, Kerry, a well-known senator who has campaigned hard in New Hampshire and is familiar in the region, can't sell himself as a new face.

"I can't see that many voters will stop and re-evaluate John Kerry because he did well in Iowa," said Andrew Smith, the director of the polling center at the University of New Hampshire. "They already know the guy."

But the performance in Iowa could convince voters to give Kerry a second look, especially as Democrats search for a candidate who has the strength to prevail against President Bush. As Dean's support has flagged here in recent days, some voters considering Clark and Kerry have said they don't believe the Vermonter is a viable candidate despite his early appeal.

Dean arrives here today with his grip on the title of front-runner loosened, but not entirely lost, as a result of his Iowa showing. He may have fallen victim to the fate his detractors had long predicted: He peaked too early. But if any candidate has the potential to recover from a worse-than-expected finish in Iowa - or even in New Hampshire - it could be Dean.

With plenty of campaign cash still in his coffers and a formidable grass-roots operation in key states, Dean could make up lost ground in the coming weeks and still emerge with the nomination.

Edwards was hoping to excel in the expectations game that has historically defined so much of the outcome of Iowa's notoriously quirky caucuses. Edwards has been riding a wave of relatively unexpected success in Iowa that could give him a chance to emerge in New Hampshire as a lesser-known and more-positive alternative to the higher-ranked candidates if the others continue to attack each other.

The American Research Group poll showed Edwards in fourth place with 8 percent. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who like Clark skipped last night's Iowa contest to concentrate on New Hampshire, has yet to reap the benefits of that strategy. Unlike Clark, Lieberman has not seen a surge in attention or popularity here; polls show him in fifth place.

Still, according to that and other recent surveys here, roughly 15 percent of voters are "undecided," a sign of how fluid the contest still is. And New Hampshire has a well-earned reputation for being contrarian, bucking the conventional wisdom to pick its own breed of winner.

As the campaigns prepared to try to divine - and then spin to the news media - the effects of Iowa's results on the New Hampshire contest, they were keenly aware that caucuses and primaries are different animals that require different strategies. In Iowa, on-the-ground organization is usually crucial to getting supporters out to private homes and public places to openly declare their backing for a candidate.

But in the New Hampshire primary - where each voter casts his own ballot - polls and perceptions can have a substantial impact on the outcome.

What's next

The Democrats move next to New Hampshire, where the field will include Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and former Gen. Wesley K. Clark. Here's a look at the primary:

Date: Jan. 27

Delegates at stake: 22

Registered voters: 690,159 as of November 2002.

Upcoming primaries

Jan. 27: New Hampshire

Feb. 3: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina

Feb. 6: Democrats abroad

Feb. 7: Michigan, Washington

Feb. 8: Maine

Feb. 10: Tennessee, Virginia

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