- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A new poll shows President Bush has received a “substantial immediate” boost in popularity and approval ratings after his surprise visit with the troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving.

The National Annenberg Election Survey compared polling from the four days before Thanksgiving with the four days following the holiday and found significant changes on everything from Mr. Bush’s personal likability to his job performance to the country’s direction.

Overall approval of the president’s handling of his job went from 56 to 61 percent, while disapproval went from 41 to 36 percent. And 41 percent of the public said things are going in the right direction in the country, up 5 percent from before Thanksgiving. The poll also found Mr. Bush’s likability, aside from his job as president, rose 7 percent, to reach 72 percent.

Mr. Bush made a surprise visit to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Bob Hope Dining Hall at Baghdad International Airport with some 600 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division. The trip, conducted in secrecy, stunned and delighted many Americans.

Adam Clymer, Washington director for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said his organization was intrigued by the president’s move and decided to compare the numbers before and after the trip.

Mr. Clymer said he cannot prove the trip definitively made the difference, but he said Iraq and the economy are the two big items determining most voters’ views on the president and the Baghdad trip was an important move for Mr. Bush.

Tony Welch, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said the shift wasn’t surprising, but that the long term is what matters.

“It’s totally understandable that the American people would support the president visiting the troops during the time of war,” Mr. Welch said. But he added: “Even the Bush campaign admits that this will be a very close election.”

He referred to the president’s own pollster, who has predicted Mr. Bush’s approval ratings would fall during 2003 in preparation for the campaign year ahead.

Despite the other good news for Mr. Bush, the survey, which had a 3 percent plus-or-minus margin of error, found that fewer than half of respondents said the war in Iraq was worth it. Before Thanksgiving 48 percent said it was worth it; after Thanksgiving 49 percent said it was.

Meanwhile, the nine Democrats seeking to challenge Mr. Bush continued to lay plans for the early primaries, with Wesley Clark announcing he will begin running ads in three of the states holding nomination contests on Feb. 3.

The former Army general will run 60-second biographical ads in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona — the first candidate to do such a coordinated purchase of ads in the Feb. 3 states, though former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has run ads in four of the states at different times.

Mr. Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have decided to bypass the Iowa caucuses, the first binding nomination contest, on Jan. 19. And New Hampshire, the second contest, on Jan. 27, is shaping up to be Mr. Dean’s race to lose. So Mr. Clark and other candidates are laying plans for how to stay in the race through Feb. 3, and to try to use that contest as a springboard for the later primaries.

The other Feb. 3 primary states are Delaware, New Mexico, Missouri and North Dakota.

The Associated Press did a survey of campaign strength and found Mr. Dean has more paid staff than his rivals in Arizona (11), New Mexico (nine) and Oklahoma (seven). He and candidate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have three in North Dakota.

And Dean’s enormous fund-raising advantage — he expects to raise more than $10 million in the fourth quarter alone — means the physician-turned-politician won’t be spread as thin as his rivals.

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