Polls - Both Kerry, Edwards attractive to voters

Monday, February 16, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Many of John Kerry's supporters vote with their heads; many of John Edwards' supporters vote with their hearts.

The leading Democratic presidential candidates personally are popular with voters, polls suggest, but their differing styles and backgrounds are attracting voters whose priorities contrast.

Kerry's preference for how to spend a day off is reading. Edwards would as soon spend it watching "Scooby-Doo" with his youngsters.

Kerry's experience as a four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts, his heroics in Vietnam and his craggy good looks have helped him claim victories in all but two of the presidential contests to date.

Edwards' skill as a smooth-talking trial lawyer with a Carolina twang, his compelling argument about two Americas, his warm personal style and boyish appeal have helped him win his native state of South Carolina. By finishing strong in several other states, Edwards has kept his campaign alive.

Voter comments and Associated Press exit polls offer profiles of the voters most attracted to the two candidates, the only ones now in the race to have won a primary or state caucuses.

Mary Carter, a 71-year-old retiree from Edgewater, Md., sums up the contrast.

"I like Kerry's sincerity," she said. "He has had experience, has been a senator, and he has a presidential look."

At the same time, Edwards "comes across pretty well -- President Kennedy was pretty young."

She said she relates to Edwards' talk of two Americas, one for the rich and one for the not-so-rich. "I'm part of the disappearing Middle America," Carter said. "He seems to understand that there are many people hurting. It seems as though the middle class is disappearing."

Her comments capture widespread voter sentiment about Kerry and Edwards in the early contests in the presidential campaign, as measured in exit polls conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Kerry draws a large share of his voters from the traditional Democratic base -- black voters, those with lower incomes and less education -- voters who describe themselves as Democrats. They're eager for a candidate with experience and one who has a good chance of beating President Bush.

In several states where Edwards has done well, the South Carolina senator has shown strength among white voters, independents, moderates and conservatives. His supporters like a candidate with a positive message and want one who "cares about people like them." He draws support from voters with a positive outlook on the economy and the war in Iraq.

In Wisconsin, which holds its primary Tuesday, both Edwards and Kerry are viewed more favorably than unfavorably by voters. Kerry has a big advantage in voter recognition of his name, however, largely because of his success in the early primaries and his longer tenure in Washington.

Kerry's experience and high visibility have given him an advantage that has led to a string of primary and caucus wins, but some voters find Edwards and his message more attractive.

"Edwards has a little bit of an advantage," said James Porter, a 40-year-old businessman from St. Petersburg, Fla. "He started from little or nothing and worked his way up."

However, first-term Sen. Edwards' message and style have been overwhelmed by voters' desire to have a candidate who can win in November.

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