- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

A growing majority of voters are unhappy with the way things are going in Iraq, but that is not helping Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, who trails or is statistically tied with President Bush in most surveys.

“President Bush and his team are going down in their approval ratings, but Senator Kerry is going nowhere,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. A recent Quinnipiac survey showed Mr. Bush leading his challenger by 43 percent to 40 percent, with 6 percent going to Ralph Nader. “Bush has lost three points in the three-way matchup, but those three points did not go to Kerry.”

The Massachusetts senator’s apparent inability to capitalize politically on the turmoil in Iraq is raising concerns within his party, especially in light of recent polls showing that voters still trust the president more than they do Mr. Kerry to conduct the war on terror and deal with Iraq’s security problems.

“There is an instinctive tendency to trust the incumbent on national security, and there is a real tendency to trust Republicans more than Democrats on national security” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution and a Kerry supporter.

“Kerry’s vote against the $87 billion [defense] supplemental, which seemed so politically necessary back in the fall when he was so worried about [former Vermont Governor and antiwar candidate] Howard Dean, is now coming back to haunt him,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

The Quinnipiac poll of 2,016 registered voters last week found that 67 percent think the Bush administration’s postwar planning for Iraq was “not so good” or “poor.”

But the poll also found that voters believe by 48 percent to 37 percent that “Bush would do a better job than Kerry in bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion,” Mr. Carroll said.

“Americans think the Bush team fouled up the occupation of Iraq, but they still trust the president to do a better job than Kerry in wrapping things up,” he said.

The poll had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

Andrew Kohut, polling director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said Wednesday in the New York Times: “You can hardly blame the Democrats if they seem a bit confused.” The situation in Iraq has worsened, Mr. Bush’s job-approval numbers have dropped below 50 percent, but “John Kerry can’t seem to pull ahead of the president in the national horse-race poll,” Mr. Kohut wrote.

“Understandably, many Democrats have begun to despair — if Mr. Kerry can’t gain ground when the president is in trouble, when can he?” he said.

Analysts on both sides say Mr. Kerry continues to suffer from perceived weaknesses on national security issues after a 19-year Senate career known for votes to slash military budgets, eliminate major weapons systems that were used in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and shrink or eliminate intelligence programs.

Poll results indicate that the Bush campaign’s $55 million ad offensive during the past two months has reinforced Mr. Bush’s image as a stronger leader, while defining Mr. Kerry as a flip-flopper.

A Pew survey released Wednesday found “clear weaknesses” in Mr. Kerry’s personal image. The public said, by 42 percent to 30 percent, that the phrase “changes his mind too much” better describes the Massachusetts Democrat.”

“Most voters continue to favor Bush over Kerry when it comes to defending the country from future terrorism (52 percent Bush/33 percent Kerry),” Pew reported.

The poll had a margin of error of three percentage points.

A continuing problem for Mr. Kerry throughout the debate over Iraq has been his inability to craft a clear alternative to Mr. Bush’s policies there.

“Kerry’s positions on Iraq have not added up to a coherent, clear policy in the past. And on current policy, where I think he was right, Bush has come around to his way of thinking, such as a role for the United Nations,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “So Kerry has been left with less room to separate himself from Bush on the issue.”

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