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Poll: Kerry Leads '04 Democrats

After Al Gore announced he would not run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry became the front-runner among one important group of Democratic Party leaders -- the members of the Democratic National Committee, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds.

But many of Gore's former supporters are still up for grabs, and nearly half of all DNC members remain either undecided or not yet willing to back a candidate -- so a nomination fight for their support may yet be in store.

DNC members are seeking someone to help their party do in 2004 what they believed the party failed to do this past November: articulate a clear message and emphasize economic issues. And most believe the party's future success will lie in taking the party in a more moderate direction.

The 2004 Nomination Race
After Gore's departure, John Kerry became the choice of 23% of DNC members for their nomination. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is in second place with 8% of mentions. However, nearly half of party members remain undecided about the party's 2004 nominee, or not ready to declare a choice.

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CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
DNC Members: Choice For 2004 Presidential Nominee

 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
John Kerry



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
Al Gore



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
John Edwards



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
Dick Gephardt



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
Howard Dean



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
Tom Daschle



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew
Joe Lieberman



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew



 NowBefore Gore Withdrew




Among those who said they supported Gore prior to his announcement, 49% say Gore's withdrawal left them undecided about whom to support. If any single candidate benefited from Gore's withdrawal, it was Kerry, who garnered 21% of the former Vice-President's backers. 9% of Gore's backers say they now prefer Edwards. (DNC members interviewed before Gore's announcement, who said they were supporting him, were called back this week; a small number could not be re-contacted).

Before Gore announced on 60 Minutes that he would not seek the Democratic nomination in 2004, he was only running neck-and-neck with John Kerry among DNC members. Among those who completed the survey prior to Gore's announcement (nearly two-thirds of all DNC members), 19% named John Kerry as the person they would most like to see get the 2004 nomination. 17% named Gore. Edwards was third, at 7 percent.

However, the bulk of those surveyed were not ready to declare their support for anyone: 40% did not have a choice for nominee yet, or would not say.

Many members think there may be special requirements for their party's nominee in an election where national security almost certainly will be an issue. Nearly half of DNC members think it is important for the 2004 nominee to have served in the military. That could help Kerry. Nearly two-thirds of members think it is important for either the Presidential or Vice-Presidential nominee to come from the South, a positive for Edwards.

Have military experience 48%
Come from south (or have VP from south) 63%

And looking even further ahead, 44% of DNC members think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will probably run for President in 2008.

Party Leadership
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe is named as the Party's leader more often than any single Democratic elected official. McAuliffe is named by 20% of members, with Senator Tom Daschle second at 17%. Another 13% said former President Clinton remains the leader of the Democrats. 8% named Al Gore, while 4% named incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 3% offered outgoing House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.

Who Leads The Democratic Party?
Terry McAuliffe 20%
Tom Daschle 17
Bill Clinton 13
Al Gore 8
Nancy Pelosi 4
Dick Gephardt 3
No one 10

DNC members overwhelmingly believe that Nancy Pelosi will be effective at promoting the party's interests as House Minority Leader. 65% say Pelosi will be very effective, and another 27% say she will be somewhat effective. Only 4% fear that she will not be effective.

And while some political observers questioned his future as DNC Chairman following the party's midterm losses, Terry McAuliffe appears to enjoy strong support from DNC members. 74% of DNC members say he should remain as Chairman, while only 15% say he should not.

Yes 74%
No 15

Looking Ahead: The Party Message And Issues
For the immediate future, party members appear focused on the problems that they believe plagued them in the 2002 elections: their inability to either find a message or to communicate one.

Nearly half of all DNC members believe the biggest problem now facing the party relates to their overall message. 22% said their party's biggest challenge now is their inability to get their message out, while another 25% said the party simply lacks a message.

(percent of all mentions)

Lack of ideas/ lack of message 25%
Failure to communicate 22
No leader 8
Bush's popularity 7
Failure to rally base 5
Stand on national security 5

This outlook on 2004 comes from a critical assessment of what went wrong in 2002. Asked to name the biggest reason for recent midterm losses, the most frequently named problem was the party's inability to develop a clear message, volunteered by 19% of members. Another 14% said that the party failed to get its message out. 14% said the Democrats were hurt most by a perceived weakness on national security.

11% said President George W. Bush's popularity and campaigning made the biggest difference November 5th. But while most Democrats cited their own failures as the most important reason for the GOP's wins, almost all acknowledged that Bush had an influence on the results, and 61% said the President's campaign appearances made a lot of difference.

A lot 61%
Some 32
Not much 6
None 0

Asked what, specifically, they should have done differently in 2002, the top answer was that they should have voiced a clearer plan for the country (named by 27%). 15% said the party should have tried harder to focus the debate onto the economy and 14% said the party should have taken a more forceful stance against the policies of President Bush.

Voiced clear plan 27%
Focus on economy 15
Criticize Bush more 14
Improve voter turnout 9

Asked to choose whether the 2002 midterm setbacks were due mainly to a lack of connection with voters on issues, to poor candidates, or to being outspent by Republicans, 56% blamed the lack of connection, while just under one-third blamed the gap in spending.

Looking Ahead To The 2004 Race
DNC members overwhelmingly believe that the main issue in 2004 should be the economy and jobs – the same issue that they believe they failed to make the priority in the 2002 midterms. 95% believe they must concentrate on the economy and jobs in 2004 – a view generally shared by their counterparts at the Republican National Committee. But DNC members believe that the GOP is especially vulnerable on the economy; 88% say so.

Democrats believe the coming race should focus on other domestic issues, too: 24% say the party must make health care a top issue and 11% say education should be a top priority. Nearly one-third of DNC members say the party must make national security of primary importance in 2004. In comparison, RNC members believe their party should try to make the next Presidential race about national security and the war on terrorism.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
(percent of all mentions)

 DNC MembersRNC Members
Economy & Jobs



 DNC MembersRNC Members
War & National Security



 DNC MembersRNC Members
Health Care



 DNC MembersRNC Members



 DNC MembersRNC Members




Whoever their 2004 Presidential nominee may be, DNC members are in general agreement on many -- though not all -- of the issue positions they'd like to see him or her take. Nearly two-thirds want their nominee to advocate changing the Bush tax cut of 2001; 87% want him or her to oppose drilling in the Alaskan Artic National Wildlife Refuge; 76% want a nominee who favors abortion rights; 90% want him or her to oppose government monitoring of Americans' emails and phone calls in the war against terrorism. But the issue of gun control reveals slightly more of a split within the party: 56% think the nominee should favor stricter gun control laws, but nearly one-third think the nominee should oppose stricter gun laws.

And one more point of wide agreement among DNC members: the 2004 campaign should, at least to some degree, involve Bill Clinton. 91% think so.

Favor abortion rights 76%
Favor stricter gun control 56%
Oppose the Bush tax cut 65%
Oppose drilling in ANWR 87%
Oppose government phone/email monitoring 90%
Involve Clinton in the campaign 91%

But whatever the nominee's stances, Democrats in many states believe they're facing a challenge: 56% say it will be somewhat difficult or very difficult for their nominee to defeat George W. Bush in their state. Party members from southern states are especially concerned, while northeasterners think they'll have an easier time winning.

And the 2004 election may offer an additional hurdle for Democrats: a majority of DNC members (54%) say that the new campaign finance reforms will hurt them more than it will hurt Republicans.

The Road To Victory: Left, Right Or Center?
Most DNC members don't think of themselves or their party as liberal – a label Republicans and others have used to describe the party. 55% see themselves as moderates and 71% describe the party as currently moderate. Just 22% say it is liberal. But nearly half believe the party should be even more moderate in its views than it is now, while 28% say it should be more liberal.

Liberal 38%
Moderate 55
Conservative 3

Liberal 22%
Moderate 71
Conservative 2

This survey was conducted December 9-18, 2002, among 313 of 425 Democratic National Committee members interviewed by telephone, fax and e-mail. DNC officers were not contacted. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Results were weighted to reflect the gender and regional breakdowns of all committee members. 278 respondents completed the survey prior to Gore's announcement; the sampling error on pre-announcement results is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups maybe higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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