Ask New Hampshire Republicans which GOP presidential hopeful has the best chance of winning in November and there's no contest: Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Ask Democrats in that state the same question about their candidates and it's another landslide: Vice President Gore.

While Bush and Gore may be seen as winners nationally in November, things are far less clear-cut in New Hampshire. Two weeks before the state's first-in-the-nation primary, neither Bush nor Gore leads in the race for his respective party's nomination, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

What's more, on a series of questions, New Hampshire GOP voters say they think more of Arizona Sen. John McCain than of Bush--and acknowledge they have more doubts about Bush than they do about McCain. Democrats, in turn, generally express more admiration for former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley than they do for Gore and admit to having more reservations about the vice president than they do about Bradley.

The New Hampshire poll found that Gore is in a dead heat with Bradley among Democratic voters, while McCain held a small but statistically insignificant lead over Bush among Republican voters. Nationally, Gore and Bush continue to hold a commanding advantage over their closest rivals, according to a companion Post-ABC News poll.

With a booming national economy and relative peace abroad, the surveys also suggest that voters this year aren't demanding dramatic policy initiatives from their presidential candidates.

More than seven in 10 New Hampshire voters and a similarly lopsided majority in the national poll said they wanted their next president to take "small, steady steps" toward solving the nation's problems. Only one in five said they favored a chief executive who would have "big, new ideas."

These sentiments may be crucial in deciding the Democratic primary, where Bradley has cast himself as the candidate of a few big and bold initiatives, particularly health care, while Gore has argued that he would seek incremental changes in a wider variety of areas.

The poll also found that seven in 10 New Hampshire voters--including majorities of Republicans and Democrats--say they support a proposal first made by Gore to end political advertising on television and instead have the presidential candidates participate in twice-weekly debates.

The survey of 2,223 New Hampshire adults, including 733 likely Republican primary voters and 534 likely Democratic primary voters, was conducted Jan. 13 to 16. Margin of sampling error for the Republican and Democratic sub-samples was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Both contests in New Hampshire remain up for grabs, according to the poll. Among those planning to vote in the GOP primary, McCain leads Bush by a 40 percent to 36 percent margin. On the Democratic side, Bradley claims 48 percent of the hypothetical vote while Gore was the choice of 47 percent.

A national survey found Gore and Bush remain comfortably ahead of their closest rivals--though the survey found that Bush's advantage over McCain has eroded slightly in the past month.

In head-to-head national matchups between the leading Republican and Democratic hopefuls, Bush continues to beat both Gore and Bradley, though the Republican's lead has narrowed since mid-December here as well.

Currently, Bush claims 51 percent of the hypothetical vote, while Gore is the choice of 41 percent. When Bradley is matched up against Bush, the Republican also wins 54 percent to 39 percent, a smaller margin than a month ago.

Both Gore and Bradley finish in a statistical dead heat against McCain, suggesting that Bush still remains the stronger of the two candidates nationally.

In New Hampshire, it is perhaps surprising that Bradley and McCain are not far ahead of their respective rivals, given the impressions people have of the four leading candidates.

McCain in particular fares well with those who say they are likely to vote in the GOP primary. On nine of 11 candidate traits measured in the poll, Republican voters viewed McCain more favorably than Bush. By a 69 percent to 53 percent margin, GOP voters say McCain understands the "problems of people like you."

Nearly three in four say the former Vietnam prisoner of war is "an inspiring candidate," while barely half say Bush inspires them. Similarly, more Republicans see McCain as a strong leader, as able to "bring needed change to Washington" and the most likely to tell the truth to the American people, "even if it's not politically popular."

Significantly, however, McCain is not viewed as a winner: Barely one in four New Hampshire Republicans--27 percent--say he has the best chance of winning in November, while two in three say Bush offers the GOP the best hope of capturing the White House.

New Hampshire Democrats view Gore and Bradley with roughly the same kind of disjointed symmetry, although it is not as lopsided as the Bush-McCain comparison.

Overall, Democrats in New Hampshire rate Bradley as superior to Gore on a majority of the traits measured, including bringing change to Washington, saying what he thinks even if it's not popular and being a more inspiring candidate. But there is a notable exception to the generally high marks for Bradley, which is that 56 percent of those interviewed said Gore offers the best chance for victory in November. Not even a third--30 percent--say Bradley represents the Democrats' best hope this year.

Gore gets higher ratings than Bradley on having the right kind of experience to be president and on having the knowledge of the world to serve as president. Both receive high ratings on the question of who is a loyal Democrat, with Gore topping Bradley on that attribute as well.

Taxes, Social Security and Medicare top the issues that New Hampshire Republicans say are important to them this election year. Among voters most interested in taxes, Bush holds a double-digit lead over McCain. However, Republicans are divided over whether Bush can cut taxes and keep the budget balanced. And the advantage flips to McCain among GOP voters most concerned about Social Security and Medicare.

Education, Social Security and Medicare rank as the issues most important to the largest proportion of Democratic voters in the state. Gore has a modest advantage over Bradley on education, while neither candidate has an advantage on Social Security or Medicare. And while Bradley has aggressively advocating broad health care reform, Democrats divide evenly over which candidate they trust most to handle this issue. But on other issues such as campaign finance reform and managing the Internet, Bradley clearly leads.

Assistant director of polling Claudia Deane contributed to this report.

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

The Presidential Races: New Hampshire and the Nation


Nationwide Democrats

Gore 71%

Bradley 27%

Undecided 2%

New Hampshire voters likely to vote in Democratic primary

Gore 47%

Bradley 48%

Undecided 5%


Nationwide Republicans

Bush 68%

McCain 17%

Other 11%*

Undecided 4%

New Hampshire voters likely to vote in Republican primary

Bush 36%

McCain 40%

Other 21%*

Undecided 3%

*Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes, Orrin G. Hatch, Gary Bauer

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

N.H. GOP Primary Likely Voters

Agree statement applies to: Bush

He has the best chance of winning in November: 68%

Some things about him worry me: 61%

He's an inspiring candidate: 56%

He's worked especially hard to win support in your state: 65%

N.H. GOP Primary Likely Voters

Agree statement applies to: McCain

He has the best chance of winning in November: 27%

Some things about him worry me: 50%

He's an inspiring candidate: 74%

He's worked especially hard to win support in your state: 89%

N.H. Democratic Primary Likely Voters

Agree statement applies to: Gore

He has the best chance of winning in November: 56%

Some things about him worry me: 56%

He's an inspiring candidate: 49%

He's worked especially hard to win support in your state: 85%

N.H. Democratic Primary Likely Voters

Agree statement applies to: Bradley

He has the best chance of winning in November: 30%

Some things about him worry me: 47%

He's an inspiring candidate: 61%

He's worked especially hard to win support in your state: 87%

Q: Which of these do you think is more important in a president:

Taking small, steady steps 77%

Having big, new ideas 19%

Both/No opinion 4%

Data is from two Washington Post/ABC News telephone polls conducted Jan. 13 -- 16. The national survey included 1,007 randomly selected adults; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In New Hampshire, 534 likely Democratic voters and 733 likely Republican voters were interviewed; the margin of error for each group is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll. Interviewing was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.