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Bush's political clout questioned

April 11, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Despite receiving cheers, hoots and standing ovations from a receptive audience on Tuesday, some question whether President George W. Bush is becoming a liability to the Republican Party.

Deepening turmoil in Iraq, dissension and scandal among congressional Republicans and a burgeoning controversy over his role in leaking classified information to rebut war critics have pushed his poll numbers to the lowest margins of his presidency.

A Survey USA poll conducted last month found that only 36 percent of Missourians approve of Bush's job performance, down nearly 8 percent from a year ago.

The downward trend in Bush's poll numbers comes at a time when crucial mid-term elections are looming.

"His popularity is way down, and being closely associated with the president isn't as beneficial as it once was," said Steve Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

Smith said there is a possibility that the president's woes might harm Missouri candidates, something Duane Bughard, a Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Missouri, said he hopes to turn into a reality.

"Congressman Hulshof has been the most ardent, most strident supporter of the administration through all of its failures," Bughard said.

Bughard said voters will punish Hulshof for supporting initiatives of the Bush agenda, including adding to a mounting deficit and supporting an energy bill with "tax breaks for big oil."

"Voters are waking up and saying this isn't what we've voted for," Bughard said.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the president's unpopularity will have an impact on races in Missouri, such as Sen. Jim Talent's, R-Missouri, re-election campaign.

"I think you'll see that mostly, in the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Talent, who instead of being an independent voice for Missourians, has been a rubber stamp for the president," Harris said.

"We know we've put forth a vision of opportunity, a vision of responsibility, a vision of community for Missouri and the country," he added. "Good policy is good politics."

Yet Smith said Bush can play a key role in keeping a GOP majority in Congress. "The president is still popular among Republicans, particularly wealthy ones," Smith said. "His administration continues to support small government and tax cuts, that remains popular among Republicans."

The same Survey USA poll that showed his overall approval ratings at 36 percent indicated self-intentified Republicans still give Bush relatively high makes. About 73 percent of them approve his job, in contrast to 35 percent of independents and 9 percent of Democrats. Many credit an energized Republican base with boosting the GOP's numbers in Congress, as well as getting the president re-elected.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia said Bush is still an asset for Republican candidates.

"If the president wanted to campaign with me in the 24th district, I would go door-to-door with him," Robb said.

Although he disagree with some elements of the Bush agenda -- such as his budgetary and immigration policy -- Robb said it is never wise to agree 100 percent with any elected official.

"I think that would be the worst possible scenario, unless you're a clone of that individual," Robb said. "But I think the president has provided very forthright leadership at a time when we really need it."

Smith said Bush's presence might be good news for candidates -- such as U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri -- who need money to fight through tough re-election races.

"[Bush] is still the most popular celebrity among GOP fundraisers," Smith said.

Smith said there is little risk in bringing Bush into town early into the election cycle when he can raise an additional $1 or $2 million for a candidate like Talent and rile up his core base of support.

"Whether he'll be demand in September or October remains to be seen," Smith said.