- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Two polls released this week suggest that a well-publicized book critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror and the hearings looking to assign blame for the intelligence failures before the September 11 attacks have politically damaged President Bush.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll released Thursday found that 65 percent of respondents were familiar with the charges put forth by former White House counterintelligence expert Richard A. Clarke that Mr. Bush failed to do all he could to prevent the terrorist attacks.

Of those who were familiar with Mr. Clarke, 52 percent found the accusations he made in his new book and his testimony Wednesday to the commission to be at least “somewhat believable.”

The poll also put Mr. Bush’s favorability rating at 50 percent, the lowest number of his presidency, and a slim majority — 52 percent — said they found the president “trustworthy,” also his lowest number.

Democratic consultant Donna Brazile said she is not surprised to see the charges of Mr. Clarke having an effect on the president’s standing with the public because the administration’s response was weak.

“The only response they had was to smear the source instead of explaining what happened,” Miss Brazile said. “This administration is not beyond reproach.”

The latest Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll also shows that the flurry of attention given to Mr. Clarke caused a six-point dip in Mr. Bush’s re-election numbers.

As of yesterday the daily tracking poll, based on 500 phone interviews every day, shows Mr. Bush losing re-election to presumed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry 47 percent to 44 percent.

Sunday afternoon, before Mr. Clarke’s interview promoting his book on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Mr. Bush had a 48 to 45 lead over Mr. Kerry.

“It was a dramatic turnaround in a couple of nights, and when something like that happens on one night, I like to see if there is some traction,” said Scott Rasmussen, who runs the poll. “And there certainly was.”

Bush-Cheney ‘04 campaign spokesman Terry Holt said he was unconcerned about the poll results and confident that the public will soon realize that Mr. Clarke’s charges are not credible.

“Dick Clarke’s credibility was destroyed by his own words,” Mr. Holt said, pointing to the praise Mr. Clarke had for the president’s leadership in the war on terrorism in a briefing with reporters in 2002 and when he tendered his resignation in January 2003.

“The American people know politics when they see it,” Mr. Holt said. “The facts of the last few days make it clear that this president took a policy of swatting at flies [from the Clinton administration] and turned it into making al Qaeda the highest priority in the war on terror.”

Republican political consultant Frank Donatelli said this attack on the keystones of Mr. Bush’s campaign has been effective, at least for now.

“When someone attacks the central pillar of the president’s strength — the war on terror and his credibility — sure it would suffer,” Mr. Donatelli said. “But we’ll have to see what the long-term implications are. It’s a long campaign.”

Democratic consultant Dick Morris thinks the Clarke flap — no matter the perception — can only help Mr. Bush.

“Kerry is losing the message game,” Mr. Morris said. “Bad news [in the war on terror] is good news since it heightens the focus on terror, and good news is good news since it does that and it indicates that we are winning the war on terror.

“This is not a contest between two candidates; it’s a contest between two issues: terror and everything else,” he said. “If the election is about terror, Bush wins. If it’s about everything else, Kerry wins.”

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