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Howard Calls For 'Dean Draggers'

At a little after noon Tuesday, the intersection of Hanover and Elm Streets in downtown Manchester became a battleground.

John Edwards and Wesley Clark supporters massed there to wave signs at passing traffic. A John Kerry sound truck stood nearby. A lone Joe Lieberman sign was manned by a few volunteers. Dennis Kucinich's campaign headquarters was right next door.

When a Howard Dean rally at the Palace Theater on Hanover Street let out, Dean supporters rushed to the intersection and quickly mounted a placard counterattack.

"We've got to get some more signs here!" one Dean partisan shouted.

Even the colorful fringe candidate Vermin Supreme was there, vowing, if elected, to use time travel to "kill Adolf Hitler before he was even born."

Passing cars honked. But it was impossible to tell which candidate they were honking for. And if conversations with voters were any indication, they might have been honking for any or all of them.

In recent days, several voters have said in interviews that they remained undecided, tilting between two, three or even four of the Democratic candidates. Many said they had never been undecided this close to a primary before. Most chalked their indecision up to what they see as the strong qualifications of several of the candidates.

"I still have 12 hours to make up my mind," said John Eaton, who is deciding between Kerry and Dean.

"There are a lot of people who were with Dean, and then went away, and now don't know what to do," said Ruth Boucher, who like Eaton went to the Dean event to help make her choice.

Polls suggest Dean is indeed bouncing back. An American Research Group poll saw him still trailing Kerry 38 percent to 20 percent, but that was four points better than his last mark. The WBZ/Boston Globe poll had Dean 20 points behind Kerry, but up two over the previous survey. Even better, the Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters poll showed Dean within the four-point margin of error, trailing Kerry 31 percent to 28 percent.

Polling is tough in primaries because it is hard to predict who will turn out. In New Hampshire, predictions are complicated by the fact that independents and Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary.

"This is very close," Dean told a 9 a.m. rally on the outskirts of Nashua. "I'm not sure it's a dead heat, but it's closed and it's closed fast."

He asked those in attendance to be "Dean draggers" and get people to the polls on Tuesday.

Dean's volunteers, who are discouraged from speaking to the press, indicated they were optimistic and prepared for a large get-out-the-vote operation on Primary Day. The weather was not expected to be a factor.

In his remarks in Nashua and later at Manchester's Palace Theater, Dean — joined by his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg — stuck to his theme of "fiscal conservatism and social progressivism."

As he has in recent days, he stressed his foreign policy credentials, saying his judgment on Iraq proved more sound than Sens. Edwards, Kerry or Lieberman, all of whom cast votes in support of last year's invasion.

Dean's speech has become so familiar for some supporters that they began completing some phrases for him. "All right wise guys," Dean quipped. "What's the next line?"

But there were some innovations in Monday's rallies.

The issue of race came up several times. President Bush, Dean said, "played the race card" in discussing affirmative action. Dean then accused Mr. Bush of refusing to sign a hate-crimes bill in Texas because it protected gays and lesbians.

Dean said affirmative action was needed because people still tend to hire people who look like them. "Everybody does it," he said.

Dean also voiced suspicions that electronic voting machines to be used in the upcoming elections might be susceptible to fraud.

Dean vowed to reverse every executive order Mr. Bush has signed dealing with the environment. He also promised to clean the air without taking away voters' beloved SUVs, by raising those vehicles' fuel efficiency standards.

In Iraq, Dean said, "We need to replace our troops with somebody else's troops," though he did not spell out how that would be done. He advocated direct elections before Iraq drafts a constitution.

Asked about Middle East peace, Dean said he believed the United States would have to "put some money on the table" to get the Palestinians to waive the "right of return" to homes in what is now Israel. Dean said renewable energy would accelerate the Middle East peace process by cutting oil profits that, he claims, fund radical Islamic schools.

He called the president's ban on stem-cell research "barbarous."

"I don't think that science should be guided by religious ideology," he added.

Dean's supporters continued to rally around their man's performance after the Iowa caucus. Many blamed the media for overplaying Dean's energetic display in what has become known as the "I have a scream" speech. Some said they shared Dean's passion.

"We're angry, man! We're angry," shouted a supporter in Nashua.

Dean did well among some of the undecideds who attended the rally in Manchester, but he did not seem to seal the deal.

"Every time I go to the event I'm impressed with the one I go to," said a voter who wanted to be called Jean. "If you ask me right now, I just went to a Dean event, I'd say Dean looks pretty good."

"But I went to a Joe Lieberman event last night and I'm going to a Kerry one tonight," Jean said. "I am deliberately keeping an open mind."

Boucher said she "was impressed by Dean's knowledge" after seeing him in person. Jean said electability was important, but was not sure Dean possessed that.

Eaton, who traveled 60 miles to the rally, said, "Dean is the only candidate who has experience in government as opposed to legislating or running an army, which is not governing in the same sense."

"Dean clearly has substance. His style? That's iffy," Eaton said. "I am torn, and will be torn when I leave the polling booth."

By Jarrett Murphy

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