Iowa now pro Bush, poll says

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Iowa now pro Bush, poll says
Al Gore took Iowa in 2000, but the Iowa Poll shows the president would win in a rematch.

By THOMAS BEAUMONT
Register Staff Writer
07/07/2002
President George W. Bush would rout Al Gore by more than 2 to 1 in Iowa, a state he lost in 2000, if a rematch of the historic election were held today, according to the latest Iowa Poll.

A year and a half after Gore edged Bush by fewer than 5,000 votes in Iowa and by a similarly narrow margin in the popular vote nationwide, Bush has turned the tables on his former opponent, prevailing in Iowa by landslide proportions among likely general-election voters, 64 percent to 27 percent, the poll shows.

The numbers reflect a confident Bush, whose national popularity skyrocketed after Sept. 11 and whose support in Iowa has perhaps been bolstered by six visits since November 2000.

"I had no faith in him (Bush) when he was running, but he has surrounded himself with men and women of character and vision," said Rhonda Lane of Eldridge, a 51-year-old registered Democrat who voted for Gore in 2000.

Like several others polled who supported Gore in the last presidential election, Lane said she hopes the Democrats don't nominate Gore in 2004. If they do, she will vote to re-elect Bush.

Bush, however, ought to know more than anyone the fleeting nature of presidential popularity. Bush's father watched his wartime popularity dissolve 10 years ago.

That possibility has Iowa alive with visits this summer from big-name Democrats other than Gore, evaluating their chances in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses should Bush's armor wear thin.

The poll, conducted June 21-26, has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

If Iowa is any indication of the difference the past year and a half has made in Bush's political popularity, California might be an even more significant measure. Bush lost the nation's most populous state and its 54 electoral votes by 12 percentage points in 2000, but he would win there today by seven percentage points, according to a poll conducted there in May.

Iowa and California reflect what has happened nationally since November 2000, University of Wisconsin political science professor emeritus Charles Jones said.

"God knows there are plenty of risks out there for Bush," he said. "But if it looks the same way next year at this time, Gore's got to consider getting out of the way."

But Gore, who hosted a fund-raiser in Tennessee last month and has headlined Democratic conventions in Florida and Wisconsin this year, has little to lose by raising money and making political appearances, Jones said.

"He's got time," Jones said, acknowledging that the economy and war on terrorism could worsen in the 18 months before the 2004 nominating process kicks off in Iowa. "He wants to protect his lead among Democrats in case it goes bad for Bush."

Bush's numbers are even better among Iowa men, who prefer him 71 percent to 21 percent for Gore. Gore's numbers improve among Iowa women, but more women still prefer Bush, 56 percent to Gore's 34 percent, the poll shows.

Voters who register without identifying themselves with either major party - the largest and fastest-growing segment of Iowa's electorate - parallel the overall results almost exactly. Sixty-five percent of independents would vote for Bush, 27 percent for Gore.

Susan Halliburton, a registered independent from Des Moines, answered with the majority.

Halliburton, who voted for Bush in 2000, finds distasteful the criticisms Gore has made of Bush in speeches he gave in Florida in April, Wisconsin last month, and most recently at his Peabody Hotel fund-raiser in Memphis on June 29.

"If he does run, he should do so without slamming Bush all the time," she said.

Halliburton, 47, said if people were unsure of Bush's leadership ability before Sept. 11, they should be convinced by now.

"He's handling our problems, and I just don't believe Gore can do it," she said.

Duke University political science professor John Aldrich said Bush's strong showing is understandable, but Gore's numbers are a bit surprising.

"Clearly one reason it's as one-sided as it appears is Gore has been pretty much under the radar," Aldrich said. Gore has remained largely out of the political spotlight since the 2000 race, working in the private sector and writing a book.

Aldrich said the last thing most voters remember about Gore is his legal fight over Florida's electoral vote, which he lost.

"Maybe he'll come back as the nonstiff, as a candidate not so handled by consultants, as he's suggested he will," Aldrich said.

Bush isn't taking Iowa's seven electoral votes for granted. He has returned to the state six times since the election and is expected back before November to stump for GOP congressional candidates.

The regular Iowa stops reflect what Bush learned from his father's political demise in 1992, the University of Wisconsin's Jones said. That's when President George H.W. Bush lost re-election to Bill Clinton after enjoying an approval rating of more than 80 percent immediately after the Persian Gulf War.

"God knows there's a family precedent here," Jones said. "The difference is this guy is a hell of a lot more alert to the danger signals than his father was."
 

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