- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

Top Democratic strategists say President Bush is increasingly vulnerable but at the same time reveal that their party is viewed less favorably by Americans than the Republican Party or the National Rifle Association is.

Mr. Bush is open to attack in several domestic areas such as the economy, taxes and Social Security, according to a poll, described in a recent memo sent to Democrats from Democracy Corps, a group of party advisers.

“There are problems brewing for the president on the economy and foreign policy, which will change the landscape in the months ahead,” predicts the memo, written by James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum. “Hunting season is here.”

But their poll also shows that the Democratic Party’s favorability rating lags behind Mr. Bush’s by 21 percentage points and the Republican Party’s by 8 percentage points. The party is also viewed less favorably than the NRA, Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Democratic Party, according to the poll, received a 40 percent favorable rating, the same rate “immigrants” earned in the poll.

“With Democrats’ issues strong but Democrats’ image lagging behind the potential issue advantage, it is time for resolve and persistence in communication and confidence in our own beliefs,” the strategists wrote. “It is time to go hunting.”

The poll questioned 1,002 potential voters May 12 to May 15.

Though 63 percent of respondents approve of Mr. Bush’s job performance, the strategists say a growing number of people disagree with the president’s handling of the economy, taxes and Social Security.

On the economy, for instance, “52 percent say they want the country to move in ‘a significantly different direction,’ while 43 percent want to continue in Bush’s direction,” they wrote.

The Republican National Committee had not seen the Democrats’ memo nor the poll, but released a memo that senior advisor Matthew Dowd wrote several months ago, warning that Mr. Bush’s approval rating is expected to drop from the highs enjoyed during the immediate aftermath of the war in Iraq.

“The current approval number should settle out beginning fairly soon,” Mr. Dowd wrote, telling fellow Republicans to “expect a chorus of ‘the sky is falling’ again.”

In the memo, the Democrats focused on the percentages of respondents who said they’d vote to re-elect the president.

“To be frank, the presidential vote to re-elect is singularly unimpressive,” they wrote. “His support against an unnamed Democrat is 52 percent.”

“As you know,” they continued, “incumbents rarely get more than their re-elect number.”

In April, Mr. Dowd predicted that “Democrats will place an emphasis on re-elect numbers” and provided a history lesson of his own.

“Throughout 1995 President Clinton’s re-elect hardly ever got above 40 percent,” Mr. Dowd wrote. “In a Battleground Poll in April, 1995, Clinton’s re-elect was 21 percent. The highest point Clinton’s re-elect reached in 1995 was 43 percent in a poll in December of that year for the Associated Press.

“In spite of the low re-elect number, President Clinton ending up winning re-election comfortably.”

Strategist Steve Jarding, who works for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, said Democrats will lose if they concentrate on only domestic issues and cede the war on terrorism to Mr. Bush.

“I think he can be beat,” Mr. Jarding said. “But if we Democrats say that the whole field is the economy, taxes and domestic issues, and forget about terrorism, then we’re in trouble.”

“There’s no question that [terrorism] is on people’s minds and will be,” he added. “You can’t escape the headlines, and you can’t forget that we were attacked on our own soil.”

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