Frontrunner John Kerry appeared to have a lock on the New Hampshire primary with a double-digit lead over the rest of the field, although a large number of undecided voters and a forecast of snow added an element of uncertainty to the poll.

Pundits, and even some candidates, have said the contest to choose Democrats' nominee to face Republican President George Bush will almost certainly become more competitive as the battlefield shifts to the 3 February contests in South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, Oklahoma and elsewhere.

"This is going to be a long process, this nomination," North Carolina Senator John Edwards predicted on Sunday.

Kerry plays safe

Kerry (R) and his wife Theresa at
a campaign rally 

Kerry's stunning victory in the Iowa caucuses last week blew the Democratic field wide open and forced his rivals to come up with a good showing in the New Hampshire vote, the nation's first primary and considered a bellwether for those to come.

But Kerry, 60, said he was not taking victory for granted.

"I'm fighting for every vote in this. I'm going door-to-door," he said. "We're working right up to the last minute."

On Sunday, he brushed aside a Republican charge branding him as being too liberal to be president. "The American people are looking for more than labels," he countered.

Kerry went on to challenge conventional wisdom that a Yankee could not win in the South.

"We have to stop separating the South," he said. "The South is not a foreign country. This is America. And these Americans in the South care about the same things that we care about in New Hampshire and elsewhere."

Kerry noted key endorsement for his campaign from a former South Carolina governor, and current US senators in Georgia and South Carolina.

Edwards lags behind

John Edwards is looking forward
to South Carolina next week

North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the number-two finisher in Iowa, has frequently interrupted his campaigning in New Hampshire to travel to South Carolina, and has said he is positioned to do well there next week.

"I grew up in the South. I have lived there almost my entire life. And not only that, I've represented the South in the Senate, which means I've dealt with the day-to-day problems that Southerners face," he told CNN on Sunday.

In New Hampshire so far, Edwards has had tepid support, but he insists his campaign is catching on.

"What's happened now is we're at the end stage. And people are looking for vision, they're looking for strength," Edwards, 50, said.

"I have had the strongest, most positive, optimistic, hopeful vision for the country."

Lieberman surges

Joe Lieberman has seen a sudden
spurt in his ratings

Meanwhile, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, whose support had long been stuck in single digits, enjoyed a sudden bounce in some polls.

According to a USA Today/ CNN/Gallup poll of 700 people, Lieberman gained four points to move into third place with 12%, after Kerry and Dean.

"My staff says that in New Hampshire today there is an outbreak of "Joe-mentum'," the Connecticut senator quipped late on Saturday.

Retired army general Wesley Clark said he too, was preparing for the next phases of elections.

"We've got good organisations in South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin," he said.

"We've got an incredibly strong basis of support, especially in the South, but really across the country."

Dean lies low

And former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who has watched his lead evaporate in most polls, avoided the high-pressure on Sunday talk shows, and sought venues that might soften his "angry" image after his disastrous loss in Iowa and the debacle of a much-ridiculed concession rant.

"There are more and more women who are becoming the sole supporters of their families," Dean said at a forum on women's issues in Manchester, where his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, made a rare campaign appearance at his side.

"These are enormous issues, that have enormous impacts on families," said Dean, amid news that his slide in opinion polls might finally have stopped, although he remained far behind Kerry.