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Sympathetic Vibrations

By Chris Cillizza and Peter Slevin
Sunday, November 27, 2005

Democrats fumed last week at Vice President Cheney's suggestion that criticism of the administration's war policies was itself becoming a hindrance to the war effort. But a new poll indicates most Americans are sympathetic to Cheney's point.

Seventy percent of people surveyed said that criticism of the war by Democratic senators hurts troop morale -- with 44 percent saying morale is hurt "a lot," according to a poll taken by RT Strategies. Even self-identified Democrats agree: 55 percent believe criticism hurts morale, while 21 percent say it helps morale.

The results surely will rankle many Democrats, who argue that it is patriotic and supportive of the troops to call attention to what they believe are deep flaws in President Bush's Iraq strategy. But the survey itself cannot be dismissed as a partisan attack. The RTs in RT Strategies are Thomas Riehle, a Democrat, and Lance Tarrance, a veteran GOP pollster.

Their poll also indicates many Americans are skeptical of Democratic complaints about the war. Just three of 10 adults accept that Democrats are leveling criticism because they believe this will help U.S. efforts in Iraq. A majority believes the motive is really to "gain a partisan political advantage."

This poll is one of the few pieces of supportive news the administration has had lately on Iraq. Most surveys have shown significant majorities believe it was a mistake to go to war, as well as rising sentiment that Bush misled Americans in making the case for it.

Even so, there is still support for Bush's policy going forward. A plurality, 49 percent, believe that troops should come home only when the Iraqi government can provide for its own security, while 16 percent support immediate withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances.

Just Say Noe

Poor Tom Noe. At first, Republican candidates were thrilled with his largess, gladly channeling his campaign contributions into election activities. Then came the campaign finance indictment and allegations that he stole millions from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Now the politicians are hurrying to get Noe's money out of their accounts -- and they're not even returning it to Noe.

Sen. Mike DeWine split $8,000 in Noe money between Mercy Children's Hospital and Toledo Children's Hospital. Three state senators sent $8,400 to a nonprofit worker safety group. Another shipped $900 to a pair of Summit County nonprofit organizations.

The GOP caucus is holding $10,600 in escrow. Gov. Bob Taft (R), fined by a judge in August for failing to report 52 gifts from Noe and others, put $21,400 in escrow and is searching inaugural committee records for contributions from Noe and his wife, Bernadette.

Auditor Betty Montgomery donated $8,100 to the state workers compensation office, while Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell -- a social conservative running for governor against Montgomery and Attorney General Jim Petro -- contributed $3,000 in Noe funds to an antiabortion group.

A total of $6,000 the Noes contributed to President Bush's campaigns has been delivered to the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign, described by Republican National Committee spokesman Aaron McLear as one of Laura Bush's favorite charities.

Still unclear is the fate of $45,400 ostensibly raised by Noe for the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. A Toledo grand jury last month charged Noe with faking the donations by asking 24 people to contribute, then reimbursing them for most of the amount.

"That money is the basis of the investigation," McLear said. Referring to the criminal case, he said, "We're going to allow that process to reach a conclusion before doing anything else."

The Toledo rare-coin dealer's reach touched the campaign of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), the only person known to have chosen the traditional route of returning Noe's cash to Noe himself.

"If I recall, there were two checks for about $5,000 each," said Marty Wilson, executive director of Schwarzenegger's political organization, the California Recovery Team. "The fact is, we're not in Ohio. We figured the most expeditious route to take was to refund it directly to Mr. Noe."

Can 14,000 Players Be Wrong?

Is President Bush an easy mark? It seems many poker players would gladly welcome him to join a game at their table.

BetCRIS.com, an online sports wagering firm, has received 14,000 answers to its unscientific survey asking visitors to its poker Web site to answer the question, "Which world leader would you play poker against?" Bush was first, the choice of 27 percent of those voting. Bush supporters may note that this is another case of the president being misunderestimated.

In a news release, Mickey Richardson, chief executive of BetCRIS.com, speculated, "My guess is people want to play against Bush because he looks like someone that's easy to bluff."

For his part, Richardson said he'd be afraid to play against Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who was running second: "If he catches you putting a move on him, you're done for."

Staff writer Kari Lydersen contributed to this report. Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com. His online politics column, "The Fix," is updated daily at www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.

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