Howard Dean (search) has moved out to at least a 2-1 lead in New York over his chief rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, while President Bush's popularity has rebounded in the heavily Democratic state, a statewide poll reported Tuesday.

The poll, from Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion (search), had the former Vermont governor favored by 26 percent of Democratic voters surveyed with Sen. Joseph Lieberman of neighboring Connecticut at 12 percent and retired Gen. Wesley Clark backed by 10 percent of the Democrats. None of the other contenders cracked double digits in the new poll. Twenty-six percent of Democrats said they were undecided.

An October poll from Marist had Dean leading Lieberman, 18 percent to 16 percent, with Clark at 14 percent among New York Democrats.

While expressing pleasure with the trend toward Dean, his New York campaign spokesman, Eric Schmeltzer, said "there are seven weeks to go (until the state's March 2 primary) and this will be a fight no matter what the polls say."

Marist pollster Lee Miringoff said Dean's New York support was driven in large part by his strong anti-Iraq war position, a sentiment shared by many New York Democrats. Fifty-six percent of those Democrats polled said they would be more likely to back a candidate opposed to the war.

The new poll also found that Republican Bush appears to be a viable option for New York voters in a state where Democrats have a 5-3 enrollment advantage over Republicans. Among all registered New York voters sampled, 34 percent said they would definitely vote for the incumbent president in this year's election while 36 percent said they would definitely vote against him. Thirty percent were undecided.

A September poll from the Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based institute had found 32 percent of voters planned to vote for Bush and 48 percent planned to vote against him.

The improvement for Bush's standing in New York was also evident in his job approval rating — 52 percent in the new poll and 44 percent in the September poll.

Republican Gov. George Pataki (search) has boasted that Bush will carry New York in this year's election, a feat not accomplished by a Republican in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan did it in 1980 and 1984.

Miringoff said while the poll contained some better numbers for Bush, "there's a huge group who is not tied down for him and those (voters) tend to gravitate toward challengers if the guy is well known like Bush is."

The telephone poll of 617 registered voters was conducted Jan. 6-7 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The Democratic results, based on a sampling of 544 party members, has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.