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Kerry's Riding High

The good news continues for John Kerry in New Hampshire, where a number of new polls out Friday show the Massachusetts senator extending his lead over the former Vermont governor, four days ahead of next Tuesday's pivotal primary.

A Boston Globe/WBZ tracking poll released Thursday shows Kerry with 15-point ledge over Dean among New Hampshire primary voters, 5 percentage points better than the day before.

According to the survey of 400 people, Kerry had 34 percent of the voters surveyed, while Dean dropped 2 points to 19 percent. Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark had 14 percent, Sen. John Edwards 11 percent and Sen. Joe Lieberman 3 percent.

A separate MSNBC-Reuters-Zogby tracking poll gave Kerry an eight-point advantage over Dean, 30-22 percent. The survey showed Clark in third placed with 14 percent. Edwards had 7 percent and Lieberman 6 percent.

Even worse for Dean is an American Research Group poll that has Dean slipping to third place with 18 points, behind Kerry's 31 and 20 for Clark.

Political observers still don't know the impact of Thursday night's televised debate that saw the Democrats take turns pummeling President Bush while treating each other with caution and courtesy in their final encounter before the primary.

But the consensus that emerged after the debate among pundits and political junkies was that Kerry had emerged as the victor, mostly because none of his rivals even tried to lay a glove on him.

"I've got six tracking polls. These are the polls where they poll overnight," said CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. "In four of those six polls, in the previous tracking poll, Howard Dean was leading. Now John Kerry is leading. And he is now leading in every tracking poll we have out here."

"Right now all the good news seems to be going John Kerry's way," Schieffer said.

With all that momentum behind him, Kerry spent the day Friday rallying one of his key constituencies - fellow veterans.

At an event packed with celebrity vets, Kerry argued that the tough talk coming from the Bush administration masks an indifference to the real needs of veterans.

The campaign also released a letter Kerry wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warning that thousands of soldiers on active duty must wait for health care, even as the largest rotation of U.S forces is under way.

"There is nothing more important than the care and well-being of our troops," Kerry said in the letter. "They have earned this care and we must not fail them."

Kerry also won the backing Friday of former Vice President Walter Mondale, the party's 1984 nominee, the campaign said. The endorsement fueled the momentum Kerry has enjoyed since his surprise first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

The veterans rally also featured South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings, a World War II vet who endorsed Kerry on Thursday, and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

Kerry argues that his record as a decorated veteran gives him the credibility to challenge President Bush on national security issues, a position he played to the hilt on Friday.

"He's been here, done that and gotten a few holes in his T-shirt," Cleland said.

Hollings touted his decades of service in the Senate with Kerry and took a veiled swipe at the only other candidate who served in the military, Wesley Clark, a retired four-star general.

"We're going to teach that fellow in South Carolina that there are more lieutenants than there are generals," Hollings said.

Clark had caused a minor campaign flap when we referred to Kerry as a junior officer not involved in serious policy issues.

Kerry's closest rival in New Hampshire, former frontrunner Howard Dean spent the day attacking Washington politicians who "say anything just to get elected," a slap at his Beltway-based rivals.

He also expanded his target to Alan Greenspan, saying the Federal Reserve chairman "has become too political" and should be replaced.

Seeking to rally his sagging campaign by casting himself as a Washington outsider, Dean criticized Greenspan as he assailed President Bush's tax cut, arguing that they were geared to benefit the wealthy.

"Listen to what they say. You can have middle-class tax cuts. You can have health care for every American ... you can help every American go to college. Do you believe that?" Dean asked a crowd of 200 people at a town hall outside of Manchester, N.H.

Later in the day, Dean said voters want "a candidate who will tell the truth," arguing that his rivals couldn't possibly promise to keep Bush's middle-class tax cut and take the economic steps necessary to balance the budget.

Dean, trailing Kerry in polls after a disappointing third-place finish in Iowa, is trying to turn a memorably loud speech Monday night into a political virtue, suggesting to voters that the speech is a sign of his passion and commitment to the race.

"I have plenty of flaws which have been generously pointed out," Dean said, adding that one of his faults is not pandering.

Dean's also been trying to project a kinder, gentler, funnier image to the public with a series of television appearances. On Thursday, he was a guest, along with his wife Dr. Judy Dean, on ABC's "Primetime," where his Monday night outburst was a frquent topic of conversation.

"I thought it looked kind of silly," Mrs. Dean said about the now infamous speech.

Dean finished the day by reciting a Top 10 list on CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman." Number one on his list of ways he can turn his campaign around: "Oh, I don't know, maybe fewer crazy, red-faced rants?"

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