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Bush Looks for Public Boost From State of Union Speech


President Bush may have gotten a slight boost from Tuesday's State of the Union address in which he outlined his foreign policy and domestic priorities for the year ahead.

A poll by the Cable News Network found that 48 percent of those surveyed had a very positive reaction to Mr. Bush's speech, while 27 percent said they were somewhat favorable and 23 percent had a negative response.

Republicans hope the speech will boost the president's public approval ratings after a difficult year in 2005. They are concerned that low ratings for the president this year could hurt their prospects to keep control of both the House of Representatives and Senate in the November congressional elections.

In that sense, the State of the Union was seen by many lawmakers in both parties as the opening salvo of the 2006 congressional election campaign.

The situation in Iraq figures to be a major election year issue and the president sought to reassure the American public in his speech about the administration's commitment to success in Iraq.

"I am confident in our plan for victory. I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people. I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win and we are winning," he said.

Public concern over Iraq was a major reason why Mr. Bush's approval ratings dipped to low levels last year.

Most opposition Democrats support the goal of a stable Iraq, but many of them want to hear more specifics from the president about when U.S. troops can begin to come home.

Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, spoke on CBS television.

"No one is talking about isolationism. He keeps saying, we cannot be isolationist, we cannot retreat. Who is talking about retreating from the world? The question is, Mr. President, what is the plan to secure our interests in Iraq and get our troops home? Tell us the plan," he said.

The State of the Union address traditionally is an opportunity for the president to lay out policy goals for the year ahead and set the political agenda.

But Washington-based pollster Mark Blumenthal says the prime-time television address does not usually give presidents much of a boost in terms of public opinion.

"Presidents generally do not change their approval ratings much, if at all, on the State of the Union address," he said on VOA's Talk to America program. "About the only exception was Bill Clinton in 1998, who got a significant boost. Most people are not watching and those that are watching tend to be partisans, people who like the president and are fans of the president and tune in to see their guy."

In his speech, the president also touched on the war on terror, the nuclear threat posed by Iran and a host of domestic issues including health care, energy and the economy.

Political experts say all of those issues could play a role in the upcoming congressional elections.

But Washington-based analyst Stuart Rothenberg predicts that Iraq will remain a top domestic issue during 2006.

"The war in Iraq has hurt the president. The president's credibility has been hurt by the war, but also by other things, [hurricane] Katrina, ethics issues and domestic surveillance. In terms of the public's confidence and trust in the White House, it is significantly down," he said.

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that getting U.S. troops home from Iraq was the top issue for voters this year, followed by concern over the rising cost of health care.

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