By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Boosted by success in early Democratic contests, John Kerry has broken to a wide lead in Ohio among the party's presidential contenders, a new poll shows.
The survey shows Kerry with a wide margin of support as Ohio's March 2 primary looms.
Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who is coming off a string of strong state primary and caucus victories, leads the field in Ohio with 44 percent, according to a poll of 667 likely Democratic voters conducted for WCPO-TV by SurveyUSA.
He is followed by former Vermont governor Howard Dean (15 percent), North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (13 percent), Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland (7 percent), retired Gen. Wesley Clark (6 percent) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (5 percent).
Four percent of those polled were undecided. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who dropped out of the race this week after poor showings in several primaries, came in at 4 percent.
The telephone survey was conducted Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
"This race has become all about electability, and people are feeling John Kerry is the guy to put up against George Bush," said Brendon Cull, a Kerry backer who lives in downtown Cincinnati and works at City Hall as a top aide to Mayor Charlie Luken.
Cull said he and about 20 to 25 other Cincinnati-area Kerry supporters are heading today to Michigan, where caucuses are set for Saturday.
Between Saturday's votes in Michigan as well as in Washington and the Feb. 17th primary in Wisconsin Kerry's campaign will begin paying more attention to Ohio, said Mark Owens, the Dayton clerk of courts and Kerry's southwest Ohio coordinator.
"You'll start to see Kerry people gravitating here," Owen said.
After January wins in Iowa and New Hampshire Kerry won five more states on Tuesday, establishing himself as the Democratic front-runner.
"It's becoming increasingly clear John Kerry will be the nominee," said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who is chairing Bush's Ohio campaign. "We've always asserted it's going to be a down-to-the-wire, photo-finish race in Ohio."
Democrat Al Gore basically conceded Ohio to Bush in 2000, when he pulled out of the state in the campaign's final weeks.
"We can be certain they're not going to make that mistake this time," Taft said. "I think Kerry will be a strong candidate."
Kevin Harbin of Oxford, an Edwards organizer, said Edwards' South Carolina victory shows he can win in the south, where Bush took nearly every state in 2000.
Edwards is hoping for wins to strong finishes Tuesday in the Virginia and Tennessee primaries.
"Those are big states for us," Harbin said. "Michigan could be a little tough. But we plan to still be around for the Ohio primary. I've started organizing Butler and Hamilton County Democrats, but to be honest, it really depends on what happens in the next few days."
Reporter Carl Weiser contributed.
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