Poll shows Dean fightback in New Hampshire

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The Independent US

Howard Dean, the outspoken former governor of Vermont, has clawed back support and now stands in a virtual tie with frontrunner John Kerry ahead of today's vital Democratic primary in New Hampshire, an opinion poll said last night.

Most other surveys showed Mr Kerry, the senator from neighbouring Massachusetts, still holding a double-digit lead. But the Zogby overnight tracking poll, which detected the late swing towards Mr Kerry before last week's Iowa vote, put him ahead by just 31 per cent to 28 per cent, well within the statistical margin for error.

The reading fits in with the feeling among political professionals here that, with his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, beside him on the campaign trail, Mr Dean is beginning to put his Iowa débâcle behind him - at least in this state where he had a massive lead only a few weeks ago.

The Kerry camp is taking nothing for granted as it attempts to project its man as the only one with the experience and credentials to beat the President. "This is not over," he warned, in a bid to play down expectations when many voters were still undecided.

In its last 24 hours, a previously polite campaign heated up as Mr Dean accused his opponents of using dirty tricks. "Unfortunately we are seeing a few of these in the Democratic primary," he said. "It's not nice but you get used to it." But campaign staff said potential Dean voters had been receiving phone calls, faxes and e-mails distorting his policy positions, and accusing the former governor of pretending to be Christian when his wife and children were Jewish.

Mr Dean also took another swipe at Mr Kerry's record on Iraq, questioning his judgement in voting to support the war while opposing the 1990-91 Gulf war to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

"Where was John Kerry when George Bush was giving out all this misinformation?" he asked, referring to the US's failure to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.