Seven Democratic presidential hopefuls sprinted for the finish line in New Hampshire on Monday, a day ahead of the Granite State's pivotal primary election.
Most polls showed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry with a comfortable lead, though one survey showed Howard Dean pulling close to the front-runner.
The MSNBC-Reuters-Zogby tracking poll had Kerry with a narrow 31-28 percent lead over Dean. The Zogby poll factored in undecided voters who were leaning toward a candidate. That left only 3 percent of voters undecided in the survey. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (13 percent) and N.C. Sen. John Edwards (12 percent) were in a battle for third. Conn. Sen. Joseph Lieberman had nine percent.
Other polls showed Kerry with a solid lead. The WBZ-TV-Boston Globe tracking poll, for example, showed Kerry with a 37-17 percent lead over Dean. Edwards (12 percent) and Clark (11 percent) vied for third while Lieberman had seven percent.
The number of undecided voters has shrunk to the single digits in most polls.
The Granite State has a reputation for unpredictability. Adding to the uncertainty, a snowstorm is forecast for Tuesday. This volatility is not lost on the candidates nor anyone who knows their New Hampshire history, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.
Most pollsters did not predict Pat Buchanan's 1996 win in New Hampshire, John McCain's big upset in the last Republican primary, or the slimmer-than-expected win for Al Gore in the last Democratic primary.
In New Hampshire, there are more registered independents than either Democrats or Republicans, and they can vote in the primary. Who they break for could end up deciding the contest. That could be the difference between heading to the next round of primaries, and heading home.
On the campaign trail, Kerry and Dean swapped criticism of each other's foreign policy credentials.
Dean said his opposition to the Iraq war was a significant difference between himself and Kerry, who voted for the resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion. He also criticized the Massachusetts senator for voting against the 1991 Gulf War.
"A lot of folks in the campaign, including Senator Kerry, complain about my lack of foreign policy experience," Dean, a former Vermont governor, said at a rally Sunday night. "But he voted not to go to war when the oil wells were on fire and the troops were in Kuwait."
Edwards, who finished second to Kerry in last week's Iowa caucuses and promised to wage a positive campaign, said Kerry has not been clear on the war.
"I think he's said some different things at different points in time," the North Carolina senator said as the candidates made the rounds of Sunday's television news shows. "So I think there's been some inconsistency."
Kerry asked Dean to "stop running a negative campaign," even as he suggested that Dean can't get elected. During door-to-door campaigning Sunday, Kerry said his rival is weak on foreign policy issues, and favors higher taxes for middle-class voters.
"The Republicans will just kill us on this," Kerry said. "Between foreign policy and taxes, I think it is a serious problem."
Dean campaigned with his wife, Judy, on Sunday as part of a weeklong effort to soften his image. Some advisers clung to hopes that most polls were underestimating his success at reassuring voters.
Others privately acknowledged that his Iowa-night performance — they call it the "I-have-a-scream" speech — had damaged his candidacy, perhaps irreparably.