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Pollster Suggests Bush Moves Might Be Too Little, Too Late

By Eric Pianin and Chris Cillizza
Sunday, May 7, 2006

The recent White House shake-up was an attempt to jump-start the administration and boost President Bush's rock-bottom approval ratings, but have those efforts come too late to salvage the presidency? A prominent GOP pollster thinks that may be the case.

"This administration may be over," Lance Tarrance, a chief architect of the Republicans' 1960s and '70s Southern strategy, told a gathering of journalists and political wonks last week. "By and large, if you want to be tough about it, the relevancy of this administration on policy may be over."

A new poll by RT Strategies, the firm headed by Tarrance and Democratic pollster Thomas Riehle, shows that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance, while 36 percent approve -- a finding in line with other recent polls.

Tarrance said it would be extremely difficult for any president to bounce back this late in his administration and reassert influence on Capitol Hill when his approval rating barely exceeds his party's base support and half of all adults surveyed said they "strongly disapprove" of his performance. An overwhelming 73 percent of independents disapprove of Bush's performance, and two-thirds of those "strongly disapprove."

The new poll of 1,003 adults was conducted April 27-30 (after Bush had picked a new chief of staff, budget director and press secretary) and was released at a conference sponsored by the Cook Political Report. It contains plenty of other bad news for Bush and the Republican Party, and suggests that the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war may be turning this year's midterm congressional elections from local to national issues.

Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would like to see the Democrats back in control of Congress, while 37 percent want Republicans to remain in charge. The war looms large as a concern of voters, the poll shows, along with jobs, health care, gas prices and immigration. Combating terrorism -- long the president's strong suit -- is far less of a concern.

Thirty percent of those surveyed said they will vote for a candidate for Congress specifically to express opposition to Bush, while 16 percent said they will vote for a candidate to express their support for the president. Half said Bush will not be a factor in their voting.

"We will have a referendum on Iraq for the first time in '06, and the '08 election may be similar," Tarrance said. The two years "are going to be relatively bundled together because of Iraq."

Gore Displays a Midas Touch

White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten recently said the Bush administration is trying to get back its "mojo." The man President Bush defeated in 2000 has already found his -- at least when it comes to raising money.

Former vice president Al Gore sent an e-mail to Democratic donors recently to "commemorate" the final 1,000 days of the Bush administration.

"I am here to tell you that we simply cannot afford to wait 1,000 days to put the brakes on the Bush agenda," wrote Gore, adding that "the level of cynicism and crass political calculation . . . is truly breathtaking."

The goal of the appeal was to collect $150,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- or $10,000 for each of the 15 seats the party needs to regain the House majority in November. Aides at the committee said the e-mail -- the first Gore had done on behalf of House Democrats this cycle -- brought in more than $200,000.

"He is the most successful signature on an e-mail that we have ever had," said DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). Emanuel added that Gore, who many think still has presidential ambitions, has agreed to campaign for House candidates this fall as long as they favor measures to curtail global warming, long his pet issue.

Candidate Ford vs. 'Big Oil'

Tennessee Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. is betting that voters' discontent with rising prices at the gas pump will translate into a desire for change at the ballot box this fall.

Ford, the lone Democrat running for the seat of retiring Sen. Bill Frist (R), plans to launch television and radio ads Monday attacking the oil companies for getting rich off of the average American family.

In the television commercials, Ford is shown pumping gas at an Exxon station while detailing the $100 billion in profits "Big Oil" made in 2005, and the $400 million retirement package for former Exxon Mobil chairman Lee Raymond that "you and I paid for."

Ford goes on to propose an elimination of tax breaks for oil companies and an investment in alternative fuel technology while also making an appeal for change. "If you're fed up every time you fill up, send a new generation to the Senate," he says.

When Ford, a fifth-term congressman, announced his candidacy last May, he was given little chance of winning because in recent years Republicans have dominated open-seat elections in the South and because his family has had high-profile problems. (His uncle, John Ford, was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges the day after Harold entered the Senate race.)

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