- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Democratic National Committee will step up its advertising campaign against President Bush’s Social Security reform plan this week during his 60-city tour to promote personal retirement accounts for younger workers, according to a senior DNC official.

The DNC plans to release new polling numbers to Democratic members of Congress later this week, showing weaker support for Mr. Bush’s proposal, and tout the poll’s results in newspaper and TV ads in the midst of a continuing presidential sales trip for his plan to let workers under the age of 55 voluntarily invest part of their payroll taxes in broadly diversified stock and bond mutual funds.

With a number of independent polls showing public support for Bush’s plan continuing to fall and Democrats saying they are winning the battle against it, the DNC official said the newspaper and TV ad campaign “will continue to attack Bush’s Social Security plan as he travels around the country promoting it.”

Last week, the DNC sent out a press release that called Mr. Bush’s promotional tour “Death of a Sales Pitch,” saying that “it has gotten so bad that Bush is now traveling to Republican states to shore up support for his ailing scheme.”

But Mr. Bush’s Republican supporters, while critical of the way the White House has handled the Social Security issue, said it would be a mistake to underestimate him at this juncture in what will be a yearlong legislative process.

“It’s one thing to say he is losing the debate, but it would be false to say he’s lost the debate,” tax-cut crusader Stephen Moore said. “This is the third round of a 15-round prize fight.”

“It would be foolish to bet against him. The polling numbers were not all that good when he was pushing his tax cuts, but he prevailed in that fight,” Mr. Moore said.

But a rash of polls in the last few weeks shows support for Mr. Bush’s plan is declining, though several surveys show a relatively narrow margin between supporters and opponents. For example, a Fox News poll of 900 registered voters nationwide, showed 47 percent opposed the idea, compared with 40 percent who liked it, while 13 percent said they were unsure.

However, polls also show a growing number of Americans who agree with Mr. Bush that Social Security faces serious solvency problems in the years to come that need to be fixed, a position Democratic leaders rejected as “Republican hype” to promote the administration’s reforms.

A Quinnipiac Poll of 1,523 registered voters conducted between March 2 and March 7 found 68 percent of those surveyed said Social Security was either in a “crisis” or had “major problems.”

Democratic officials said last week that it was now generally agreed that the New Deal program faces financing troubles that will need to be resolved this year. “There is a huge downside for Democrats if nothing happens on Social Security. People will say you had a chance to fix it and didn’t. You are the party of ‘no,’” a senior party official said.

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