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Inside Politics

Bush numbers take an uptick

Majority of registered Democrats choose Kerry

Bush has slight edge on Kerry in latest poll.
Bush has slight edge on Kerry in latest poll.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
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(CNN) -- As President Bush defended his record last week, his approval rating and his strength against the leading Democratic presidential contenders improved, according to a new poll, but the numbers still point to a close election.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll also showed Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts increasing his lead among registered Democrats, with a majority now saying they want him as their nominee to face Bush in November. The two men were virtually tied in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup.

Bush's approval rating in the poll, conducted Friday through Sunday, was 52 percent, compared with 44 percent who said they disapproved. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In a poll taken a week earlier, Bush's approval rating was at 49 percent -- the lowest of his presidency -- with 48 percent disapproving of Bush's performance.

Last week's poll was taken after David Kay, former head of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said prewar intelligence indicating that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had WMD was wrong.

The latest poll was taken after Bush hit the road to give speeches defending his record, but most of the interviews were conducted before he made a rare appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press" to address questions about Iraq.

Among registered Democrats surveyed, Kerry was the choice of 52 percent, compared with 14 percent for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, 13 percent for Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and 10 percent for retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

It was the first time that polling in the Democratic race showed a majority for any candidate. A month ago, Kerry was at just 9 percent in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey.

When likely voters were asked whether they preferred Bush or Kerry, 49 percent answered the president and 48 percent chose Kerry.

A week ago when Kerry was riding a wave of primary and caucus victories, he held a 7-point advantage on that question.

In hypothetical matchups, Bush bested Edwards 50 percent to 46 percent, and was ahead of Clark 51 percent to 46 percent. The president held his biggest advantage over Dean, 53 percent to 43 percent.

Answers to poll questions among likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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