- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

PRESIDENTIAL POLL

With about 2 1/2 months under his belt, 56 percent of registered voters nationwide approve of the job President Obama is doing in office, with 30 percent disapproving, according to a Marist Poll released Wednesday.

Mr. Obama's positive approval rating is bolstered by the perceptions of young Americans, with 76 percent of voters younger than 30 saying they approve of the president's job so far - a significantly larger share than any other age group.

But opinions vary widely between voters of the two major parties: 88 percent of Democrats give the president high marks, compared with only one-quarter of Republicans.

Registered voters nationwide told Marist pollsters that the president has a handle on their concerns, with 72 percent saying Mr. Obama understands the problems facing the nation, compared with 23 percent who say he is out of touch. Even a notable proportion of Republicans - 38 percent - believe the president is in tune with today's key issues. Not surprisingly, most Democrats - 96 percent - agree.

American voters view Mr. Obama as someone who cares about the average person, as 67 percent say the president cares about people like themselves, while only 25 percent disagree. The president also has made inroads with a sizable proportion of Republicans on this question, with 35 percent of party voters sharing this view.

BUNNING BLUES

A new poll shows that Sen. Jim Bunning faces the race of his political life, as the Kentucky Republican would be vulnerable against several potential Democratic candidates in 2010.

Mr. Bunning's approval rating is just 28 percent and trails the four most likely Democratic candidates in hypothetical contests, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday. Fifty-four percent of Kentucky voters disapprove of Mr. Bunning's performance. And even among Republicans, just 42 percent think he is doing a good job.

The survey shows Mr. Bunning would lose to Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat, by 14 percentage points. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, Auditor Crit Luallen and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo - all Democrats - also would easily beat the two-term senator.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate if the incumbent were to step aside, is viewed positively by 46 percent of the state's voters, with just 19 percent holding an unfavorable opinion and 35 percent saying they were unsure.

“If there was ever any doubt Republicans would be better off with Jim Bunning retiring, these numbers can put that to rest,” said Public Policy Polling President Dean Debnam. “ Trey Grayson may want to rethink his decision not to run unless Bunning retires.”

IRAQ REVISITED

Barack Obama's unannounced flying visit to Baghdad comes at a time of growing concern that hard-won security gains of the past 18 months are beginning to unravel,” Simon Tisdall writes in Britain's Guardian newspaper. “While he may wish Iraq a safe and prosperous future, the U.S. leader's top priority is plainly an orderly American military withdrawal. Obama has other fish to fry, notably Iran and Pakistan-Afghanistan. Problem is, Iraq is not over.

”A string of car bombings in Shia areas of Baghdad this week gave deathly voice to newly rising tensions between Sunni Arab groups and the Shia-led coalition government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. The attacks were variously blamed on a reviving al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, Ba'ath party renegades and hardline Sunni paramilitaries. They may offer a foretaste of what is to come after U.S. troops vacate Iraq's towns and cities this summer under Obama's withdrawal timetable.

“The next big test follows in the autumn, in the run-up to December's national elections. Maliki was deemed to have made significant strides in January's provincial polls in encouraging a nationalist, secular mood and focusing on economic and social, rather than ethnic and religious, issues. But questions about political willingness to set sectarianism aside are matched by persistent doubts over the ability of indigenous security forces to protect voters without American (and British) help.”

CIGAR DIPLOMACY

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, who, along with members of her group, returned this week from Cuba, said on CNN's “American Morning” program Wednesday that “it's time to change our direction in our foreign policy” toward the communist nation.

The California Democrat, whose itinerary included meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and older brother and former dictator Fidel Castro, said the trip was important “to make sure that we have the proper information to make recommendations to the president, our secretary of state, and our speaker with regard to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to help shape our foreign policy. And Cuba is 90 miles away. We've had a 50-year-old policy that did not work. So it's time to talk to Cuba.”

Ms. Lee denied the trip would be perceived by some as condoning the country's history of human rights abuses.

“Absolutely not. What we went down to Cuba to discuss was how we can help push the ball forward, what it would take to begin dialogue. … We heard over and over again that every issue that the United States feels important, wants to discuss, every issue that has been raised for the last 50 years would be on the table for a discussion.”

Ms. Lee added that the elder Castro, who has been suffering from ill health, “looked fine.”

“He was very energetic, very clear thinking. He knew what we had been doing while we were in Cuba. He knew our mission. He recognized who we were. And he was very engaging.

“We discussed quite a few subjects. Of course, bottom line is, we wanted to talk more about normal relations between our two countries and how he viewed diplomacy and discussions and dialogue as it relates to ending the embargo against Cuba.”

FAUX FUND

A man has established a Web site soliciting donations for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to pay more than $500,000 in legal fees, but a spokeswoman for her political action committee says she can't accept the money.

Clayton Paslay of Burleson, Texas, says his Web site had collected more than $1,300 in its first day of operation Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

But a spokeswoman for SarahPAC says the governor can't accept money from the site because it's not an official legal defense fund, and that a proper legal defense fund will soon be set up.

Mr. Paslay says he's working with Mrs. Palin's lawyer to make sure the donations can be given legally.

Mrs. Palin's legal bills include those stemming from controversy over her firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at 202/636-3208 or [email protected]

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