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Inside Politics

Kerry, Edwards both top Bush in poll

Bush campaign chairman cites 'huge focus' on Dems

A new poll shows President Bush trailing Democrats in two hypothetical match-ups.
A new poll shows President Bush trailing Democrats in two hypothetical match-ups.

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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential hopefuls John Edwards and John Kerry both hold leads of 10 percentage points or more in hypothetical match-ups against President Bush, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday.

The survey marks the first time Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, has topped Bush in a one-on-one poll of likely voters if the election were held today.

In a head-to-head contest, 55 percent said they would choose Kerry for president over Bush, who drew the support of 43 percent. Edwards led the president 54 percent to 44 percent.

The poll of 1,006 adults, including 568 likely voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted Monday and Tuesday -- before the returns came in from the Wisconsin primary, where Edwards finished a strong second to Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Kerry has argued that he is the only Democrat in the race who can beat Bush. That argument has helped him win 16 of the 18 presidential contests to date; Edwards won in his native South Carolina.

The chairman of Bush's re-election campaign said Wednesday he is not surprised by the new poll numbers.

"There's been a huge focus on the Democratic primary, a lot of media coverage of those events ... huge amounts of money spent attacking the president," said Marc Racicot, who left the helm of the Republican National Committee last June to chair the president's campaign. He spoke in an interview with CNN's Inside Politics.

"We predicted that we were probably going to be in a position where we would be trailing for a period of time, so I think that we've known all along that this is going to be a tough race," he said.

In his first interview since taking the helm of the campaign, Racicot also noted that former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both trailed their re-election challengers, then came back to win strong victories in 1996 and 1984, respectively

"Our steadfast belief is that when the steady leadership of the president is characterized and also defined, that there will be a clear choice for Americans to make," he said.

The polls' use of likely voters appears to give Democrats an edge they have not enjoyed in previous surveys, finding that more rank-and-file Democrats are paying attention to the campaign.

Among registered voters, Kerry held a narrower edge over Bush, 51 percent to 46 percent. Edwards led Bush 49 percent to 48 percent in the same survey of registered voters.

Bush's approval rating dipped slightly in the most recent poll, down a point to 51 percent. Forty-six percent said they disapproved of the president's performance in office. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

More of those surveyed considered Bush a strong leader when matched against Kerry, 65 percent to 59 percent. But more said they considered Kerry honest and trustworthy, 61 percent to 55 percent.

But only 42 percent said either man had a clear plan for solving the country's problems today, and less than half of those surveyed -- 45 percent for Bush, 44 percent for Kerry -- said they believed the candidates would stand up to special interests while in office.

Critics, including Democratic Party chief Terry McAuliffe, have raised questions in recent weeks about whether Bush fulfilled his duties to the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. But the poll suggests that neither those questions, nor Kerry's history as a decorated Vietnam veteran-turned-antiwar activist, are having much effect on voters' preferences.

Only 35 percent said they believed Bush did anything illegal or unethical during his time in the Guard, and 81 percent said his actions during that period would make no difference in their decision about whether to vote for him.

Seventy-nine percent said Kerry's combat experience also would make no difference to them in casting their ballot. And 69 percent said his antiwar activism made no difference in their decisions.

Those questions had margins of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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