Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has lost the ground he gained on President Bush in recent months in five of six key election issues, as well as in personal likability, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday.

One month ago, Mr. Kerry had cut Mr. Bush’s lead on who would best handle the war on terrorism to just one point, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Today, the poll shows Mr. Bush with a commanding 18 percentage point lead on that issue, 55 percent to just 37 percent for Mr. Kerry.

Kerry spokesman David Wade said he was not concerned about his candidate’s drop in the polls, insisting that voters are losing faith in Mr. Bush’s ability to lead the war.

“Americans know that John Kerry will be a strong commander in chief they can trust to make difficult decisions and wage an effective war on terror,” Mr. Wade said.

“That’s clear from poll after poll, and it’s equally clear the country is deeply unhappy with a president who went to war without a plan to win the peace and who is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs on his watch.”

According to the poll of 1,202 adults conducted Thursday through Sunday, Mr. Bush earned his highest rating for his handling of the economy — 47 percent — in the last six months.

On who has the best tax policy, Mr. Kerry had led the president by 12 points in June, but Mr. Bush now leads on that issue 49 percent to 43 percent.

Mr. Kerry, who has made criticism of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy a key plank of his campaign, had cut the president’s lead on that issue to just two points by last month. Now, Mr. Bush is trusted by 52 percent of voters to handle that issue, as opposed to just 40 percent for Mr. Kerry.

And Mr. Bush — who has endured constant attacks from Democrats and a wildly successful unflattering political movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11” — appears to have weathered that storm, too.

The poll shows an 18 point swing in Mr. Bush’s favor on the question of who is more honest and trustworthy, and a 14 point swing on who is a “strong leader” and “understands the problems of people like you.”

Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said she expected Mr. Kerry’s poll numbers to improve after the convention, but claimed they exposed a real weakness in the Democratic candidate’s campaign.

“I think that one can argue that the more voters get to know John Kerry, the less they like him,” Miss Iverson said. “As people start to realize the facts, they will grow increasingly uncomfortable with him as a candidate.”

Republican consultant Charlie Black, an unofficial adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, said the poll was “very encouraging” for the president.

“Every week, people realize that the economy is good again, and that trend will continue,” Mr. Black said. “The news out of Iraq has been better, too — not nearly as intensively bad every day like it was for a while.”

The fact that the past week has been dominated by the September 11 commission’s report, which was not overtly critical of the Bush administration’s execution of the war on terror, also probably helped the president.

“Fighting terrorism is President Bush’s strong suit,” Mr. Black said.

According to the poll, more than half of voters said they knew little or nothing about Mr. Kerry’s positions on issues. And in a tip to the Republican strategy to paint the Massachusetts Democrat as too liberal, 40 percent of those polled agreed.

The poll also put the nationwide race between the two candidates at a dead heat, with Mr. Bush the choice of 49 percent, Mr. Kerry at 48 percent and independent liberal candidate Ralph Nader at 3 percent.

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