- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

President Bush yesterday signaled his desire to stay above the political fray and, with the economy and the situation in Iraq improving, he might be able to maintain that stance all the way to re-election in November.

“Let me just tell you what the strategy is of this administration: Forget politics,” Mr. Bush said a news conference yesterday after several attempts by reporters to get him to address the political implications of Saturday’s capture of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Bush told reporters he wanted them to “get this straight early in the [presidential election] process. I take my job seriously. I will do my job. And I look forward to the political debate later on.”

Those remarks apparently indicate that Mr. Bush plans to pursue a classic Rose Garden strategy. This politics of no-politics, used by other presidents seeking re-election, got its name from President Ford’s 1976 campaign, during which he confined himself to making chief executive announcements from the White House Rose Garden instead of hitting the road to campaign against his Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter.

“A Rose Garden strategy does look good now, but lots can go wrong in 11 months.” said Jude Wanniski, a conservative political analyst. “The economy is getting stronger every day, benefiting most from the spring tax cuts on capital, but inflation and rising interest rates could be a problem by election time.”

For now, however, with the capture of Saddam, Mr. Bush’s re-election ducks — from the economy and the apparent jobs-producing effects of tax cuts to health care and prescription drugs — look to be lining up for him.

Yet fellow Republicans were cautious.

“The joy over this and the good feelings toward the president I’m hearing from Democrats and Republicans here in Morgan County in rural Ohio is amazing,” said Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican.

He recalled that after September 11, 2001, when Wall Street was tanking and a record number of jobs were being lost, analysts and political campaign advisers were nearly unanimous in predicting that the economy would be the biggest obstacle to Mr. Bush’s re-election.

The economic good news — in the form of record growth numbers — came along last month, in plenty of time for public perceptions to adjust.

That left most analysts predicting that the election next year would turn on public attitudes toward the war in Iraq and continuing American casualties. But in the wake of Saddam’s capture, Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy now looks like a political winner.

In a Gallup poll taken after Saddam’s apprehension and released yesterday, 62 percent said they thought the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over — up from 56 percent from Nov. 14-16. The poll of 664 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The capture apparently produced a 12 percentage-point jump in respondents who said they are confident the United States will be able to stop the attacks on its soldiers in Iraq — 60 percent were very or somewhat confident after the capture compared with 48 percent a week earlier.

The capture also produced an even bigger up jump in the percentage who said they were confident that Osama bin Laden would be captured or killed — 68 percent now compared with 41 percent at the beginning of December.

All these findings bring cheer to Republican partisans.

“How do Democrats win? By rooting for a recession and continued uncertainty in Iraq,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger. “In both cases, it certainly looks like they’re going to have a much more difficult time getting their way.”

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