Monday, April 26, 2004

President Bush’s popularity is similar to those of past presidents at this stage of an election year, despite a massive negative advertising campaign by his opponent, the National Republican Party chairman said yesterday.

A Fox News poll shows Mr. Bush with a 50 percent approval rating.

“Those numbers are very, very comparable to what you see from history with both Reagan and with Clinton, as a matter of fact,” Marc Racicot said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And, quite frankly, [Democratic candidate] John Kerry has run a lot of negative advertising over the course of the last numerous months,” Mr. Racicot said.

Gallup polls showed President Reagan with a 54 percent approval rating in April 1984, President Clinton with a 56 percent approval rating in April 1996, and President Carter with a 39 percent approval rating in April 1980.

Mr. Bush’s father had a 42 percent approval rating in 1992.

“Well, obviously the polling information reveals that this is going to be a very tight race, and we’ve believed that from the very beginning,” Mr. Racicot said.

The Fox News poll showed that 38 percent of Mr. Kerry’s supporters backed him because he was “not Bush,” while 22 percent backed him because of the issues.

“John Kerry doesn’t know himself completely,” Mr. Racicot said of the numbers. “I mean, he has, if you think about it for a moment, taken virtually every side of every issue.”

Kerry campaign manager Jeanne Shaheen said the numbers show voters “know who George Bush is,” but are “just finding out who John Kerry is.”

She called Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans an “attack machine” for “calling into question Mr. Kerry’s courage and his commitment to the military.”

On the House floor Thursday, congressional Republicans questioned Mr. Kerry’s antiwar protests after his service in Vietnam. The critics included Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, who was a prisoner of war for seven years in North Vietnam.

Mr. Johnson compared Mr. Kerry to fellow antiwar protester Jane Fonda and said his actions were “nothing short of aiding and abetting the enemy.”

“We do not need a Jane Fonda as commander in chief,” added Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, who also served in Vietnam.

Mrs. Shaheen called the remarks “unconscionable.”

“John Kerry served with honor, with valor. What we have seen from all of the military records is that all of his superiors said that,” Mrs. Shaheen said.

Asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether the criticisms were justified, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and another Vietnam POW, said it is time for the country to move beyond that divisive war.

“I’d like to see us put the war that was over more than 30 years ago behind us. I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to heal the wounds of the war and help our Vietnam veterans come all the way home, resolving the POW/MIA issue, which I worked with John Kerry on, and a normalization of relations and others.”

Mr. McCain said the president and senator from Massachusetts had “served honorably” during the war.

“I think we should all set the tone that people have the right to disagree with their government. I didn’t agree with Senator Kerry’s position against the war, but I believe that he earned the right to criticize, as all Americans do.”

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