- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2002

President Bush addresses Congress on Tuesday at the peak of his popularity and political power as a wartime leader who is trusted more than the Democrats on the issues that matter most to voters: national security, the economy and education.
Mr. Bush begins the second year of his presidency facing some huge challenges, such as the recession and holding down a projected $100 billion budget deficit. But he also has many things going his way that have produced a significant upsurge in his opinion poll ratings.
U.S. military forces have routed al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the war in Afghanistan and, after 10 months of recession, the economy is showing clear signs of recovery.
Mr. Bush's job-approval scores are in the 80s, and the National Republican Congressional Committee says the Republican Party has a six-point edge over the Democrats in the elections this year. Partisans on both sides of the aisle say the president's popularity will help him pass the election-year agenda he will outline.
Mr. Bush met with Republican congressional leaders yesterday at Camp David to discuss that agenda.
"There's no question that he's riding high coming out of the war on terrorism and the September 11 attacks," said Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff under President Clinton. "The American people liked the leadership he provided with regards to unifying the country on that issue. When you are running 80 percent popularity in the polls, it translates to other issues as well. The bully pulpit can produce a lot of power."
Mr. Bush in his weekly radio address yesterday pledged to "spend whatever it takes to win the war on terrorism." In a preview of the State of the Union address, he also promised to work to improve the climate in which jobs are created and to "fight the recession and build economic security."
In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said that Congress should move quickly on a stripped-down public spending plan to boost the economy.
Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, a Bush campaign adviser, thinks that the president will spend freely the political capital he has earned from his success in the war on terrorism to push the rest of his agenda.
"He can exert his influence that derives from his popular support to promote not only the war against terrorism, where he has bipartisan support, but also to support his domestic agenda," Mr. Gillespie said.
The Democrats have tried to cut into Mr. Bush's popularity with some aggressive attacks on his policies, from tax cuts to the Enron scandal, but the White House in most cases has been able to blunt them.
Attempts to blame the president's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut for the disappearance of the budget surplus have not caught on with most voters. Even the politically sensitive, bread-and-butter issues of the economy's slump and rising layoffs do not seem to have hurt the president or his party at least, not yet.
A bipartisan Battleground poll released Thursday by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake showed that voters strongly approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the economy by 67 percent to 24 percent. Only 39 percent approve of the way Democrats have dealt with the economy.
Mr. Panetta said that the Democrats have been having trouble framing their case against Mr. Bush on several fronts.
"There's no question that the administration is vulnerable on the deficit and the economy, and the Democrats are trying to figure out how to nail that issue. There is some scrambling going on to figure out what is the best approach to go after that issue," Mr. Panetta said.
Meanwhile, a survey by Democratic pollster Mark Penn found that voters by very large margins trusted Mr. Bush and the Republicans more than the Democrats to handle the war on terrorism, homeland defense and the economy. Most voters "still look to Republicans on economic and security issues," he said.

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