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Gore takes hits in poll of DNC members

As the Democratic Party regroups from the disappointing midterm elections and begins searching for a presidential nominee, a Los Angeles Times poll shows nearly half of party insiders believe former Vice President Al Gore should sit out the 2004 race.

The poll, which surveyed roughly three-quarters of the membership of the Democratic National Committee, suggests that the contest is wide open and that there is a hunger for change. While 35 percent of respondents said Gore should run again, 48 percent said he should not and 17 percent were undecided.

The poll turned up significant backing for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and surprising support for Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, the Democrats' leader in the House since 1989, did not fare as well as Kerry or a second national newcomer, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential nominee, and California Gov. Gray Davis, leader of the nation's most populous state, also were viewed with less enthusiasm. Fresh off his tight re-election bid, Davis was one of the least popular of 10 possible candidates tested.

The poll found great affection for former President Clinton _ viewed favorably by 96 percent of respondents _ but also a recognition of his polarizing effect among voters at large. More than half of those sampled said Clinton should restrict his campaigning on behalf of the 2004 party nominee to a few selected states.

The DNC consists of roughly 450 local and state party leaders who constitute the governing body of the national party. Although members' views do not reflect those of the public, their opinions could have a significant effect on which candidate emerges as the Democrat to face President Bush in his expected re-election bid.

The poll found no clear-cut favorite in the prospective Democratic field. Asked who they would like to see as the party's 2004 nominee, just about half the party leaders surveyed, 46 percent, had no preference. Gore's name was volunteered by 13 percent and Kerry's by 10 percent.

After they were read a list of 10 prospective candidates, 19 percent named Gore as their favorite and 11 percent had no preference. Kerry was cited by 18 percent, Edwards by 13 percent and Gephardt by 10 percent. Six other possible candidates were in single digits, including Lieberman at 4 percent.

Asked who they believed would be the strongest candidate against Bush _ regardless of their personal preference _ more than 25 percent of respondents cited no one in particular.

The poll interviewed 312 of 388 selected DNC members by telephone on Nov. 7 and 8 and Monday through Thursday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Elsewhere . . .

MANUFACTURED HOMES RETAILER FILES CHAPTER 11: Oakwood Homes, the nation's No. 2 retailer of manufactured homes, says it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and cut 1,700 jobs, about a fifth of its work force. The company, which also builds mobile homes, is facing $570-million in debt and has been losing money for three years.

MASS. GOVERNOR TREATED FOR MENINGITIS: Acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift was diagnosed with viral meningitis Saturday, a day after being admitted to a hospital with headaches and nausea.

The illness is not life threatening but Swift, 37, will remain hospitalized for another one to three days, said Dr. Troy Brennan of Brigham and Women's Hospital. She should be back to full strength quickly, he said.