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Joe & The Gen.: What Ails Them's Jarrett Murphy checks in on two Democrats struggling, but not quite succeeding, to make the grade in New Hampshire.

At a forum on national health policy Friday, Joe Lieberman described his proposed center for chronic disease studies, a project he called his "moonshot." Wesley Clark told tales of three of the four bullet wounds he suffered in Vietnam. "I think they hit me one more time when I was crawling away," Clark said.

While Lieberman's speech earned genuine applause during pauses, perhaps unsurprisingly, Clark's was interrupted by clapping, even whoops.

With Tuesday's primary fast-approaching and John Kerry surging in opinion polls, both the Clark and Lieberman campaigns say their best hopes lie in other primary states down South -- Clark's home territory -- or out West, where Lieberman might appeal to conservative Democrats.

Both men skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, and both are now battling expectations and doubts.

Unlike John Edwards, who spent part of his day in South Carolina, they spent all of Friday in New Hampshire.

Both attended the health policy forum -- along with long-shot candidate Dennis Kucinich -- hoping to pull in enough votes to get a respectable result on Tuesday.

For now, Clark holds a steady third in most polls, but Lieberman trails badly. Along the campaign trail, Clark has taken hits for lacking specific policy ideas, and Lieberman for having rather un-exciting ones.

At Friday's forum, Lieberman said health care would be "a priority of my administration," saying it was the No. 1 concern voiced to him on his trips around the state. He touted his "Medikids" plan to cover all children from birth to age 25, and proposed creating health centers in all elementary schools to teach children healthy eating and exercise habits.

He also proposed making insurance available to adults through a "Medichoice" program, making sure people who lose their jobs retain health coverage, and "sensible medical malpractice reform." He also said he would rescind the ban on stem-cell research.

Lieberman compared his proposed Center for Cures, which would partner government researchers with private sector scientists to research chronic disease, to the Apollo program. "This is my moonshot program, if you will," he said, adding later, "President Bush's mission is to Mars. My mission is to cures for people right here on Earth."

That feet-on-the-ground approach underlies Lieberman's stump speech. "If you put your trust in me," he says, "I will never let you down."

Clark's work at the podium was more animated.

While he flubbed several lines from his prepared text, he did well firing up the crowd at Manchester's downtown Palace Theater.

At points he shouted into the microphone, jabbing his finger in the air. After relating the story of his war wounds, he asked all the nurses in the audience to stand up for recognition. Then he railed against pharmaceutical companies before a crowd that heartily agreed.

"Don't look to Bush" for action against the drug makers, Clark warned. The insurance and drug companies used scare tactics to discourage reform, but "They're not scaring me," he said.

Clark, often criticized for avoiding specifics in discussing policy, proposed a four-step plan for reducing drug costs.

He would: 1) allow the U.S. sale of cheaper drugs from Canada and other countries with adequate safety testing; 2) have Health and Human Services audit drug companies to see how much they receive in subsidies; 3) allow the government to negotiate drug prices for bulk purchases; and 4) reduce barriers "that prevent generic drugs from coming to market."

Clark, who was in second place to Howard Dean until Kerry won the Iowa caucus, has been locked in third place since then. The most recent Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters three-day tracking poll had Clark slipping a point to 14 percent, behind Kerry with 30 percent and Dean with 22. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

But Clark received better news in an American Research Group three-day tracking survey, in which he moved up a point to sit in second place with 20 percent behind Kerry's 33 percent. Dean was in third with 18 percent, within the four-point error margin.

Lieberman, who registers single digits in most polls, invested a lot in New Hampshire. His logo here includes the state map. He even rented an apartment in Manchester.

But he has not been rewarded for those efforts, in the polls or on the streets: A car painted with Lieberman and his wife's image and his campaign logo, parked near the health policy forum, had received a parking ticket.

By Jarrett Murphy

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