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Schneider: 'Bush is sinking; Clark is surging'

CNN analyst Bill Schneider
CNN analyst Bill Schneider

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, President Bush's approval ratings have fallen to 50 percent. According to the poll results, two Democrats -- Wesley Clark and John Kerry -- are running almost evenly with Bush.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider spoke to CNN anchor Lou Dobbs about the poll Monday.

SCHNEIDER: Take a look at these figures that show the trend in the approval rating for President Bush over the last few months. Back in April, he was at 71 percent approval. And now he's dropped -- as you see that top number -- to 50 percent; 50 percent is the break-even point. If a president dips below 50 percent, he's in trouble.

He's lost particular support among men, about 17 percent just in the last month among men, so that now the gender gap doesn't even exist anymore. He is no better regarded by men than by women. That's a dangerous sign for this president.

DOBBS: And, Bill, the difference being Republican men, Democratic men? What is the breakout?

SCHNEIDER: It is all men, Lou.

And there's a reason for that. Men are very sensitive to the jobs issue. And with over two million jobs having been lost since 2000, men are getting very angry with Bush because they supported the tax cut policy, but they don't see the payoff in terms of the job generation that was promised. And that's really making a difference. By the way, I can tell you that, at this point in 1991, the year before his re-election campaign, his father was at 66 percent approval.

So [the president is in] significantly worse shape than his father was at this point before his catastrophic re-election [bid].

DOBBS: And Iraq, the dismal performance of the administration in the rebuilding phase in Iraq, has not played into these poll results at all, based on the survey?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, they both have come into these poll results because people are becoming much more critical of the Iraq involvement. In fact, right now, Americans are split over whether the war in Iraq was even worthwhile.

Just two weeks ago,something like 60 percent of Americans thought it was worth going into Iraq and fighting to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Now Americans are divided. I think one reason is, that speech the president gave to the American people on September 7, in which he cited an $87 billion bill for the reconstruction of Iraq, was massively unpopular. Americans are asking, why are we spending $87 billion in Iraq, when that money is badly needed in the United States?

DOBBS: Bill, Wesley Clark, the newest member of the Democratic candidates for the Democratic nomination, is Wesley Clark leading the way?

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right.

DOBBS: That's remarkable.

SCHNEIDER: Bush is sinking; Clark is surging. It looks like he declared his candidacy at exactly the right moment in this race, when Bush looked vulnerable and Democrats had been casting about desperately for someone who can win.

Look at this. He's leapt, vaulted to the top of the list, above Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, all better-known candidates. Clark is number one because Democrats look at this former supreme allied commander and they see a candidate who looks like a winner. And, indeed, in this poll and in some others, he does better than any other Democrat in [the] running against President Bush. And this poll, it is virtually a statistical tie, but he leads Bush by three points, which means he looks like he could just barely beat President Bush.

DOBBS: Now, we should point out, this is within the realm of the margin of error.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

DOBBS: It is also fair to say, is it not, as we discussed these polls and what they lead us to infer, Bill, it is a highly volatile period, is it not?

SCHNEIDER: It is highly volatile. And Americans, really, about half of them say they don't know anything about General Clark. He's just beginning to be investigated.

The press has uncovered some damaging information about his military career, which was very controversial. At the Pentagon, there were questions about his judgment when he was the allied commander in Kosovo and advised the military effort in Bosnia. Some of these stories are beginning to be discussed.

But what Americans see right now, particularly Democrats, is somebody who can win, particularly somebody who can appeal to men. He looks very good on paper. On Thursday night, he's going to enter his first debate. That is going to be his political debut against the other Democrats discussing not military policy, but the economy. And a lot of Democrats want to see, what is it he has to say about how he's going [to] reconstruct the economy, because we don't know.

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