John Kerry overpowered Howard Dean to easily win New Hampshire's primary Tuesday, a second-straight campaign victory for the newly minted Democratic presidential front-runner.
"I ask Democrats everywhere to join us so we can defeat George W. Bush and the economy of privilege," Kerry told supporters cheered by his political revival. He promised to "reduce the poverty of millions rather than reducing the taxes of millionaires."
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark battled for third, but far behind both Kerry at 39 percent and Dean at 26 percent. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, sagging to fifth place, rejected advice from some advisers to abandon his bid.
After trooping through coffee shops, country stores and livings rooms of Iowa and New Hampshire, the candidates now move to the cold realities of a national campaign — airport rallies and multimillion-dollar ad buys in seven states holding contests next Tuesday.
Kerry, who reshaped the race with his stunning win in Iowa's caucuses Jan. 19, pledged to carry his momentum to every state. He assumes the weighty mantle of front-runner, a title that drew scrutiny to Dean's record and every lapse.
"He hasn't been in that position," Dean said of Kerry in an Associated Press interview. "We'll find out what happens."
The four-term senator said he can handle it.
"I've been in public life for a long time, and I have been in tough races before and have been scrutinized," Kerry told the AP. "I'm ready to lead our party to victory."
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Kerry had 39 percent, Dean had 26 percent, Clark 12 percent, Edwards 12 percent and Lieberman 9 percent. It was a three-tier finish, with Dean as far behind Kerry as he was ahead of Clark and Edwards.
An AP analysis of the delegate count showed Kerry winning 13 delegates and Dean capturing nine, while Edwards and Clark appeared to finish below the 15 percent vote threshold needed to win any delegates.
It has been a topsy-turvy Democratic race, with Dean leading New Hampshire polls by 25 percentage points when the year began, Kerry seizing a similar lead after Iowa and Dean gaining a bit of ground after an 11th-hour political overhaul.
"We were written off for months, and plugged on and showed people the determination we have to defeat President Bush," Kerry told the AP.
Dean, the former five-term governor of Vermont who finished third in Iowa, lost New Hampshire by double digits, less than he needed for a complete rebound or to erase doubts about his viability. He did manage about twice as many votes as either Edwards or Clark.
Dean kept his emotions in check Tuesday night, telling supporters, "The people of New Hampshire have allowed all of you to hope again."
Edwards, who finished a surprise second in Iowa, failed to find the same magic in New Hampshire, though he did gain some support in a week. He's staking his candidacy on his native South Carolina, a centerpiece of next week's contests.
"Beyond South Carolina, I don't want to make any predictions," he said.
Clark, hoping to be the rare candidate who thrives after a distant finish, said, "We came into New Hampshire as one of the Elite Eight. We leave tonight as one of the Final Four," he said.
Ignoring his fifth-place showing, Lieberman declared, "We're in a three-way split decision" and pointed his ragged campaign toward South Carolina, Delaware and Oklahoma.
Kerry's victory ensures him money and momentum headed into next Tuesday's contests.
Dean insisted he will "play to win in every single state," overruling aides who urged a more cautious approach. The former Vermont governor plans to compete in South Carolina, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona, which holds contests next Tuesday; Michigan and Washington state four days later; and Wisconsin, with its contest Feb. 17.
Several Dean advisers had urged him to pick fewer targets, cherry picking states to conserve resources, but he vetoed the strategy, insisting that his campaign was muscular enough to compete nationally.
In the AP interview, Dean acknowledged that advisers urged him to skip South Carolina. "There was some discussion about it," he said. "I never gave it any thought."
Dean had raised more than $200,000 in the 24 hours before the primary, but he has been spending money just as fast as raising it, and he will keep up the pricey pace with his new strategy.
His eye warily cast toward the fall, Bush planned a trip to New Hampshire to counter criticism heaped his way during the Democratic race. He used a similar tactic after Iowa's caucuses, scheduling his State of the Union address one day after that contest.
About 200,000 voters participated in the Democratic primary, easily eclipsing the record 170,000 turnout in 1992 when Paul Tsongas defeated then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Voters in the primary were evenly split between Democrats and independents. A third of the independents backed Kerry, a fourth backed Dean and the rest were split among Edwards, Clark and Lieberman.
Surveys of New Hampshire voters showed Kerry's support was broad-based with equally strong support among women and men, all age groups. His support was slightly higher among those whose financial situations have gotten worse in the last four years.
The exit poll was conducted for the AP by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
Kerry dominated among those who decided whom they would back in the last week, getting the support of half of those voters. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters said they backed Kerry because they think he can defeat Bush.
Dean ran strongly among liberals, Iraq war opponents, those angry at Bush, and those who thought the most important candidate quality was standing up for what they believe. He lagged behind Kerry among voters who most wanted a candidate who could beat Bush and a candidate who had the most experience.
Kerry, often a plodding and inelegant campaigner, found his rhythm as Dean lost his this month. A decorated Vietnam War lieutenant, Kerry cast himself as the Democratic antidote to Bush's advantages on terrorism and foreign policy. He warned Democrats that Dean's tax and foreign policy will "just kill us" in the fall.
In the desperate hours after Iowa's caucuses, Dean tried to soften his image and retool his message, billing himself as a straight-shooting fiscal conservative and social liberal. He questioned Kerry's judgment for opposing the 1991 Persian Gulf War and supporting Bush's 2002 war resolution.
The pair bickered to the end.
"I vote my conscience. Unlike Howard Dean, I've fought in a war and I know the responsibilities of commander in chief, of how you send young men and women off to war," Kerry said, touting his service in Vietnam.
Dean shot back by accusing Kerry and the other senators seeking the presidency of paying too much attention to information the Bush administration provided about Saddam Hussein's potential to deploy weapons of mass destruction.
"The question is how come the senators fell for the misleading information," said Dean, who rose to prominence in the race as an opponent of the Iraq war. "I didn't."