Democrats see Gore as 2004 front-runner

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Al Gore holds a substantial lead over potential rivals for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, preferred by roughly half of Democrats surveyed nationally in a new Washington Post poll.

With Gore in the race, no other Democrat included in the survey topped 10 percent.

Early polls about presidential politics can be misleading, often more a reflection of name identification than of genuine support. Even strong front-runners face significant challenges once the primaries and caucuses begin, as Gore will if he runs.

Many Democrats, particularly those in the party hierarchy, prefer that Gore not run again. They believe the party has a better chance to beat President Bush by closing the books on the bitter 2000 campaign and offering a fresher face. But the Post poll showed that if Gore decides to seek the nomination, he will begin as the clear front-runner.

The former vice president is in the midst of a book tour to promote two books he and his wife, Tipper, have produced about the American family. He plans to make a decision about running after the holidays.

In the Post poll, 49 percent of Democrats surveyed said they favored Gore for the nomination. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Gore's running mate in 2000, placed second with 10 percent. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, S.D., and Sen. John Kerry, Mass., were tied for third at 6 percent, while Rep. Richard Gephardt, Mo., was fifth with 4 percent.

Civil-rights activist Al Sharpton, who has declared his candidacy, received 3 percent, including a heavy share of African-American Democrats in the survey, while Sen. John Edwards, N.C., and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean were at the bottom with 1 percent each.

The poll is based on a survey of 1,042 randomly selected adults, including 418 self-identified Democrats. The telephone survey was conducted Nov. 21-24, and the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.