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Kerry leads Bush in new poll

Bush's approval numbers dip

Sen. John Kerry leads President Bush in a new poll.
Sen. John Kerry leads President Bush in a new poll.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George Bush
John Kerry
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry, the front-runner among Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination, leads President Bush in a head-to-head matchup, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and retired Gen. Wesley Clark also emerge as formidable opponents, according to hypothetical matchups in the poll, which found a decline in Bush's approval numbers.

The poll, based on interviews with 1,001 adult Americans, including 562 likely voters, was conducted in the days after the New Hampshire primary.

The poll underscores both Kerry's momentum after his wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, and increased favorability among Democrats in general as they dominate political news with their primaries and steady criticism of Bush.

The general election is slightly more than nine months away and Bush has yet to launch his campaign in earnest, meaning the poll numbers are all but certain to shift.

When the 562 likely voters were asked for their choice from a Bush v. Kerry race, 53 percent of those picked Kerry, and 46 percent favored Bush.

When that same group was asked to pick between Edwards and Bush, the numbers were 49 percent for Edwards and 48 percent for Bush. With a Bush/Clark face-off, Bush was favored by 50 percent of those surveyed and Clark, 47 percent.

Howard Dean, the onetime front-runner in the Democratic field, had a poorer showing against Bush, 45 percent to 52 percent for the incumbent.

The question of choice for president among likely voters had a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin or error was different for other questions, as some questions were posed to likely voters, others to just Democrats and others to all adults surveyed.

Kerry was the overwhelming choice of registered Democrats for the presidential nomination. Support for Kerry as the Democratic nominee stood at 49 percent, compared to 14 percent for Dean and 13 percent for Edwards. The other Democratic candidates were in the single digits.

The poll showed Bush's job approval rating at 49 percent among all the adults surveyed, the first time since he became president that his job approval has dipped below 50 percent. A month ago his rating was at 60 percent, as he enjoyed a spike in approval after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

A majority of those polled now say they disapprove of Bush's handing of the economy, foreign affairs, the situation in Iraq and health care. The poll also showed the nation evenly divided -- 49 percent to 49 percent -- on the question of whether it was worth going to war in Iraq, marking the first time approval of the war has dropped below 50 percent.

However, a majority of those polled -- 54 percent -- said they do not believe Bush deliberately misled the country on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while 43 percent said they believe there was deception.

Despite the apparent rising fortunes of Democrats, the poll showed Bush enjoyed advantages over his rivals in several areas.

For example Bush was seen as a stronger leader than Kerry -- 53 percent to 39 percent --and, despite Kerry's military service in Vietnam, more patriotic than the senator from Massachusetts, 49 percent to 34 percent.

And,on the question of Iraq, more Americans trusted Bush than Kerry, 50 percent to 44 percent.

CNN Polling Director Keating Holland contributed to this report.

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