- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Voters who had been preoccupied with Iraq are now finally linking President Bush’s name with the ongoing economic recovery, the bipartisan Battleground 2004 poll has found.

“The economy — and a million new jobs since September — is finally getting through to voters and no longer being crowded out by news from Iraq,” Republican Ed Goeas said in releasing the Battleground findings at a press briefing with Democrat Celinda Lake.

Both pollsters said there is no historical precedent for this election, in which more voters have settled on a candidate earlier than ever before, and in which nothing that the campaigns of Mr. Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry do affects the voters nearly so much as the news out of the Middle East and on the war against terrorism.

The presidential race remains extremely close, with Mr. Bush ahead at 43 percent to Mr. Kerry’s 41 percent, and 1 percent voting for independent Ralph Nader and 13 percent undecided, the June 20-23 poll found. The survey of 1,000 likely voters has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Pushed to make a choice, the same sample of likely voters was split 48 percent to 48 percent between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry — statistically no different from the findings of the same poll late in March.

Mrs. Lake and Mr. Goeas agreed that by all historical precedents, Mr. Kerry should have swept past the incumbent by now, given the bad news about Iraq in recent months and a Bush job-approval rating hovering at 50 percent.

Mr. Goeas said the problem for Mr. Kerry was an unenthusiastic reception from voters. Mrs. Lake said that would change with the Democratic National Convention in Boston next month, when Mr. Kerry will have his best opportunity yet to introduce himself to the electorate.

Mr. Bush registers a 51 percent job-approval rating in the new Goeas-Lake poll, but Mr. Goeas said ratings of barely above 50 percent for an incumbent this late in an election did not keep Presidents Reagan (53 percent) or Clinton (52 percent) from winning re-election.

A June 23-27 New York Times-CBS News poll, released yesterday, found that 42 percent of the 1,052 adults sampled approved of the job Mr. Bush is doing — an all-time low, according to the paper’s analysis.

The good news for Mr. Kerry, Mrs. Lake said, is that the Battleground poll shows him leading 50 percent to 46 percent in key states that could go either way and determine who wins the Electoral College vote. But she also said that blacks are among Mr. Kerry’s strongest constituencies, and that they are less intensely committed to voting in November than are white born-again Christians, one of Mr. Bush’s strongest constituencies.

Mr. Bush, a wartime president battered by wartime news, can find reassurance in several other findings of the Goeas-Lake poll taken for George Washington University. Among conservative Christian voters, a crucial element in the Republican turnout, he is doing better now than he had done in the 2000 election. By wide margins, likely voters say he is a stronger leader than Mr. Kerry (54 percent to 38 percent), says what he believes (57 percent to 34 percent) and shows steady and consistent leadership (54 percent to 27 percent).

An encouraging finding for Mr. Kerry is that 46 percent say he cares more about people like them, compared with the 41 percent who say the same about the president. And by 48 percent to 44 percent, more voters think that the Massachusetts Democrat represents their values.

Mrs. Lake said the election could end in another extremely close outcome, as it did last time, or a landslide for either side.

But Mr. Goeas — who once agreed that a Kerry blowout was one of four possible outcomes — now says that Nov. 2 could be close or a landslide for the president, but not a landslide for the Democrat, who in poll after poll has shown little of the personal appeal needed to win big.

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