Hillary Clinton Strong in a N.H. Poll

If Hillary Clinton (search) joined the Democratic race for president, John Kerry (search) could be one of the biggest losers, at least in the key state of New Hampshire, according to a new poll.

The race for Granite State Democrats, now largely a contest between the Massachusetts senator and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search), would quickly become a Clinton-Dean race with Clinton favored by 27 percent of voters and Dean by 23 percent, according to a new poll of likely voters by The Boston Herald.

Under the Clinton scenario, Kerry would fall into the second tier of Democratic hopefuls, favored by just 16 percent of voters. All the other Democratic candidates would be relegated to the single digits.

Dean's support among independent- and reform-minded voters seems intact with or without Clinton in the race while Kerry would find his base of support among traditional Democratic voters threatened, according to Herald pollster R. Kelly Myers.

"If Hillary Clinton suddenly expressed some interest in the race, the biggest potential loser is Kerry," Myers told the Herald. "She doesn't eat into Dean's lead at all ... As of today, Dean is the only one who could hold his own (against Clinton)."

Clinton has repeatedly said she will not enter the race, but speculation continues that the New York senator could make an 11th-hour entrance into the running.

Among independent voters polled in the survey Dean and Clinton were locked in a virtual dead heat with 21 percent favoring Dean and 22 saying they would vote for Clinton.

Women, who favor Kerry when he's pitted against Dean, flocked to Clinton in the poll, with 32 percent saying they'd vote for Clinton, compared to 18 for Dean and 16 for Kerry.

A hefty 30 percent of men picked Dean, compared to 19 percent for Clinton and 16 percent for Kerry.

Without Clinton in the race, Dean and Kerry sit atop the Democratic pack in New Hampshire, with Dean pulling 28 percent of those polled, compared to Kerry's 25 percent. U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is favored by 11 percent and Missouri U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, is backed by 9 percent.

The Herald poll of 402 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters was taken July 22-24. The polls has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.