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Polls Show US Presidential Race Still Tight - 2004-06-10

The U.S. presidential campaign is on hold this week, out of respect for former President Ronald Reagan, who died Sunday. But the race is still on. Some new public opinion polls indicate Democrat John Kerry has a lead over President Bush less than five months before the November election.

Three of four recent polls give Senator Kerry a lead over the president, ranging from a seven-point margin in a Los Angeles Times poll to a two-point edge in a survey conducted by the Zogby polling organization. Mr. Bush held a slight lead over his presumed Democratic opponent in the fourth poll.

Senator Kerry appears to be benefiting from concerns over Iraq and the domestic economy.

Economic expert Jim Glassman says the White House should be concerned that good news on job growth in recent months does not seem to be translating into support for President Bush.

"The economy is dramatically improving, but it does not seem to be helping President Bush," he said. "Still, the number of people saying that the economy is getting better is rising, at least according to the latest Gallup survey, even though President Bush's ratings on handling the economy are actually falling."

The president also appears to be suffering in the polls because of public concern over Iraq. But Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, says more voters at the moment trust the president on national security issues than Senator Kerry.

"There is no evidence that Kerry is gaining ground on handling the war in Iraq or handling the war on terror," she said. "It is not clear at this point what Americans know about the June 30 transfer of power [in Iraq], except that most people are eager to see it happen."

Some political analysts predict the president will get a boost in the polls in the wake of this week's funeral for former President Reagan. Mr. Bush enjoys high approval ratings from conservative Republican voters much as Ronald Reagan did when he was president.

At the very least, this week's pause in the campaign could have the effect of slowing Senator Kerry's momentum in the polls.

"It is a kind of a respite from the campaign. It is a halt, a pause," said American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman. "And as we know from sports events, a rain delay, a postponement can absolutely change the momentum of the campaign."

Most recent polls have also suggested that a lot of voters have already made up their minds about the November election. That could leave the candidates fighting over a relatively small pool of undecided voters in the final weeks of the campaign.