With the New Hampshire primary two days away, many Democrats are choosing to vote with their head instead of their heart.
A growing number of voters said their heart was with Howard Dean, the fiery former Vermont governor who proclaims he is from "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." But they are leaning toward Sens. John Kerry or John Edwards or retired Gen. Wesley Clark because they believe those candidates have the best chance of beating President Bush.
Mike Harris, a college professor from Loudon, said he liked Dean's spirited style and his support of gay civil unions. But Harris is concerned that voters in the general election will find him too extreme.
"I have no problem with him personally," Harris said. "But I think Bush is going to clobber him."
Harris said he recently decided to support Kerry because "he is the one person who probably can put all the pieces together to defeat George Bush's machine."
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said it's unusual for her party to vote so strategically. Democrats have a reputation for choosing nominees who are popular with liberals but lack broad appeal to win a general election.
"Bush has done for the Democrats what they couldn't do for themselves. He has united and focused them," Lake said.
There aren't many differences among the candidates' positions on the issues, so voters say they are not compromising their values if they opt for the most viable candidate.
What makes a Democrat "electable"?
Several New Hampshire voters said it's important the candidate have experience in Washington, particularly in foreign affairs and the military. Others said they want someone who can win Southern states, which are traditionally carried by Republicans.
Lorrie Maynard, a surgical technician from Dunbarton, said one reason she had chosen Clark, an Arkansas native, was because he will have strong appeal in the South. Edwards is also considered a strong Southern candidate because he was born in South Carolina and lives in North Carolina.
Frances Winneg, a voter in Bedford, said she liked Dean because "he's been a progressive governor" and she enjoyed his blunt style. "What you see is what you get. He's plain-spoken."
But she is concerned about his lack of experience in foreign affairs.
"Although I trust him to surround himself with good people, it worries me," she said.
She is leaning toward Clark because of his foreign affairs experience and "he's a mature adult."
Like many Democrats, Winneg is passionate about defeating Bush.
"He's got to be stopped," she said.
As the voters have focused on electability, so have the candidates.
Clark often mentions his Arkansas roots in his campaign speeches.
"We need a candidate who can take on George W. Bush in November _ and win!" Clark said last week during a rally at his Manchester headquarters. "We need a candidate who can win not just in New Hampshire, but in every state."
A Kerry TV commercial features one of his supporters saying, "The only way we're going to beat George Bush is with John Kerry's leadership and experience."
Dean's support has plummeted since his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses Monday.
The quality that attracted so many supporters _ Dean's passionate style _ is now turning them off. Several voters said they were troubled by Dean's shouting and shrieking during a Monday night speech.
"These outbursts seem to be reoccuring," said Carol Dochstader, a retired high school counselor in Amherst. She said she was still undecided but that Dean "is now off the radar screen."
Dean says he would be a strong candidate against Bush because of his record balancing the Vermont budget and his good ratings from the National Rifle Association.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat supporting Dean, said the other candidates have vulnerabilities that Bush can attack. She questioned whether Edwards could win Southern states when he was expected to have difficulty winning re-election in North Carolina. She said Kerry would be portrayed as "a Massachusetts liberal. They are going to slice and dice him."
Dayton Duncan, an author and Dean supporter from Walpole, said Democrats should be careful not to jump to conclusions about predicting the best or worst candidate in the general election. He said many Democrats believed in 1980 that Ronald Reagan would be a weak opponent. He even said a prayer asking that Reagan be nominated.
"God apparently was listening," Duncan said. "I wish he hadn't been."