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Bush Extremely Strong With Base

May 31, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Occasional grumbling by some prominent conservatives about President Bush sometimes overshadows his extremely solid support among stalwart Republicans and conservatives around the country.

Many Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that support by itself does not tilt the 2002 elections toward the GOP. Some, however, say it could offset the gains the party out of the White House _ Democrats, in this case _ historically has made in midterm elections.

``The general backdrop has shifted away from the Democrats over the last year to where we have a level playing field,″ said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster in Atlanta who works with Republican candidates.

The Sept. 11 attacks also shifted the political landscape from domestic issues favoring Democrats to national security and the war on terrorism, which favor the GOP.

Democrats acknowledge the president’s strength, but question whether that will carry over to other GOP candidates.

``The president has put his popularity on the line in these congressional midterm elections,″ said Michael Meehan, a senior strategist at the Democratic National Committee. ``What remains to be seen is whether the intensity of the conservative base translates from the president to the candidates who are on the ballot.″

Meehan said polling data he has seen indicate the elections are much more likely to be decided on the basis of individual candidates and local campaigns.

Some conservatives have grumbled about the Bush White House handling of spending, steel tariffs, the Mideast and other issues.

``Within the conservative leadership, there is increasing restlessness about some of the Bush’s domestic policy decisions in the last few months,″ said Steve Moore, president of the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group.

Democratic strategist Jim Jordan dismisses such complaints as ``strictly a debate among the Washington elites.″

Polls do not suggest discontent among some conservative activists has spread outside Washington.

``Bush wins overwhelming majority support from all Republicans and with strong Republicans it is all but unanimous,″ said Thomas Riehle, president of Ipsos-Reid public affairs, which conducts a tracking poll for the Cook Political Report.

``At this point in any president’s first term, you would expect to have alienated some faction of your own party, but that is not the case with George Bush.″

Added GOP pollster Matthew Dowd: ``It gives you an opportunity to reach out to constituencies.″

Bush’s job approval rating among Republicans is in the low 90s and a bit higher among strong Republicans, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll and others.

Georgia Republican Chairman Ralph Reed said most conservatives he talks to are quite content ``the ball is clearly moving in the right direction.″ That gives the GOP the latitude to reach out more on health care, education and other issues, he said.

The president can do that by following through on issues he campaigned on and ``make them a reality,″ said Blaise Underwood, political director of the Republican National Committee. Democrats say that GOP proposals on many domestic issues fall short and are underfunded.

Intense enthusiasm for the president among his political base could be very important in a midterm election when turnout tends to be lighter, said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Republicans acknowledge Democrats often have had an advantage in past years getting out their voters.

One definite benefit for Republican candidates will be the president’s ability to raise money for candidates, Ayres said.

Jordan, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said money should not be a deciding factor. ``We will not lose a Senate race because of a lack of resources,″ he said.

A report this week from the Federal Election Commission suggested the parties’ money raising and spending for congressional races has been relatively even.

Jordan said he has seen little evidence that Senate races will be a referendum on the president. Polling on voters’ preference for Republican or Democratic congressional candidates has consistently shown voters are fairly evenly divided.

Conservative loyalty to Bush could give Republicans added leeway to move to the center on some domestic issues _ excluding top GOP issues like taxes and abortion, said conservative analyst Marshall Wittmann of the Hudson Institute.

``Bush ended the Clinton-Gore reign and he delivered for them on taxes,″ said Wittmann. ``He seems to have a connection with conservatives that is almost nonverbal.″

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Will Lester covers politics and polling for The Associated Press.

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