Then again, maybe not.

The 2004 presidential campaigns are beginning to swing into high gear. Indeed, the Iowa caucus is just a few months away. And the vital and perhaps most well-known presidential hopeful destination is right behind: New Hampshire. Anybody who is any body in presidential politics will be at the world-famous Manchester Marriott, hanging out at the bar and tossing back the booze with the cream of the hardcore political pundits, desperate hangers-on, and editorial hacks. It’s not a pretty sight, and there is no cure.

Everyone wants to know what the polls say. So as a favor to all the political junkies out there, here is a close look at a cross section of as-they-say: likely voters (LV).

There are several questions on everyone’s mind as we swing into political first gear: the war in Iraq, the standing of the president of the United States and the field of Democratic contenders for his job.

Of course, every so-called legitimate news organization in these United States conducts polls, most in partnership with a "non-partisan" academic or think tank type organization. Space limits us to just the news organizations. Most we already know: CNN/USA Today; Newsweek; Zogby; Fox News; ABC/Washington Post; NBC/The New York Times, and CBS.

Let’s begin with Democratic hopefuls for the most powerful office in the free world. Here is how they stood the last couple of weeks. The question asked of Democrats was not skewered or "push-polled" in any way. It ended like this: "Which of those candidates would you most likely support for the Democratic nomination in the year 2004?”

CNN/USA Today is up first. Howard Dean 16 percent; Wesley Clark 15 percent; Dick Gephardt 12percent; Joe Lieberman 12 percent; John Kerry 10 percent; Rev Al Sharpton 6 percent; John Edwards 6 percent; Carol Mosley Braun 4 percent; and Dennis Kucinich 1 percent.

In tracking these results back to the first week in September, we can see a slight change. Both Dean and Clark have risen several points each, while Gephardt/Kerry/Lieberman have dropped. Al Sharpton has climbed from a rating of 2 percent. Mosley Braun remains constant while Kucinich stays firmly in the political basement.

Newsweek and Zogby polls for this time are virtually identical. But these polls suggest that the pack of opponents is much tighter:

Dean 12 percent; Clark 10 percent; Kerry 9 percent; Lieberman 8 percent; Mosley 5 percent; Gephardt 5 percent; Edwards 3 percent; Sharpton 3 percent Kucinich 1percent.

ABC News/Washington Post results closely follow Newsweek and Zogby. ABC, however, puts Dick Gephart with 14 percent, just behind leader Dean at 16 percent.

But what does all of this really mean? At first glance, it would seem that the leaders are indeed the leaders and can’t be taken out. But the closeness of the numbers suggest that any candidate might get enough of a surge to take some votes away and become a spoiler in New Hampshire or wherever. Again, that being said, the numbers also show that grasping at that political straw is wishful thinking. It just might keep some campaign cash coming in and keep hopes alive for someone on the bubble and almost making the cut, such as Dick Gephardt.

About the only clear sign in all the numbers is the fact that Dennis Kucinich couldn’t be elected dogcatcher anywhere in the Republic.

Are Democratic voter unhappy with the field of candidates? Perhaps the next poll might be surprising. Last month, Newsweek asked the question on everyone’s mind: if they were both in the race now, would either Al Gore or Hillary Clinton be your first choice? Or would you prefer another candidate?

The results are not even close:

Hillary Clinton 33 percent; Al Gore 28 percent; Clark 7 percent; Dean 7 percent; Lieberman 5 percent; Kerry 5 percent; Edwards 2 percent; Gephardt 1 percent; Sharpton 1 percent; Kucinich 1 percent. Mosley Braun doesn’t even show.

There is one fact that these numbers do suggest. The race for the Democratic nomination is close. It's so close that, come convention time next summer, no clear winner may be the case. Then a Hillary Clinton move for the White House could come into play, uniting the party. That could be a serious run for power. If George W. Bush’s numbers decline further, and the Iraq situation remains bleak, the numbers may indeed hold the answer.

And what do the ordinary folk think of George W. Bush in the White House?

This is an example of how the numbers could be manipulated for political reasons.

Zogby commissioned a poll in early October asking a straight-up question concerning Bush’s approval rating. The results are about the same for other organizations polling as well.

The ratings are 55 percent favorable; 42 percent unfavorable; 1 percent not sure. Simple enough.

CBS News/The New York Times asked the same question but came out with these diluted results:

Favorable 43 percent; unfavorable 34 percent; undecided 13 percent; haven’t heard enough 8 percent; effused 2 percent.

In this fast moving, sound byte society, CBS might report the first number and omit the others. That 34 percent unfavorable rating would be the number remembered and repeated and discussed around the water cooler. Of course, the same tactic could be used against any other candidate.

The last question concerned the war in Iraq. I’m not going to repeat all of those results. Suffice it to say that, over all, Americans approve of the occupation, usually by a few percentage points one way or another.

There is another poll result. Americans may slightly approve the occupation. But the numbers opposing the idea that the U.S. taxpayer foot the occupation's 87 billion dollar bill are not ambiguous: around 57 percent opposed, and about 35 percent say pay up.

Flag waving is fun, but no one wants to pay the tab. By Grady Hawkins

It’s the best of times for the political junkie. Every four years, we come back to life. We are like a colony of lemmings, driven suddenly to a frenzy of speculation, argument, and prediction. Sometimes this activity leads to harsh words and shouting matches while we race for the inevitable political plunge over the presidential cliff, which, in 2004, will take place on November 7. Politics is the closest you can get to actual combat without having to venture anywhere near the Sunni triangle. And that certainly includes everyone here at the national affairs desk of the Alt Press, and, indeed, the entire staff. Politics is what we live for. As the best-known political junkie in the world, Dr. Hunter Thompson, noted years ago: it’s better than sex.