The latest public opinion polls indicate the 2004 race for the White House remains very close, even though President Bush appears to have picked up some support in recent weeks at the expense of his expected Democratic Party opponent, Senator John Kerry.

A new poll by Gallup, CNN and USA Today has the president leading Senator Kerry by 48 to 47 percent. Three weeks ago, Senator Kerry had a six-point lead in the same poll.

A new survey by Fox News gives the president a seven point margin over the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

On the campaign trail in California this week, Senator Kerry derided President Bush's promise of four years ago to unite the country. He said Mr. Bush was "the greatest divider as a president in the modern history of this country."

"Above all, what leaps out at me is the thirst among Americans for leadership that really wants to bring people together and find solutions," he said.

Other Democrats are also stepping up their criticism of the president. In a speech in Washington, former Vice President Al Gore, the man who lost to George Bush in the 2000 election, accused the president and Vice President Dick Cheney of exaggerating pre-war links between Iraq and al-Qaida.

"If Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that launched the attack against us, then that means the president took us to war when he did not have to," he said.

President Bush defended his decision to go to war in Iraq in an interview with Irish television. "He [Saddam] was dangerous and no one can argue that the world is better off if Saddam Hussein were in power," he said.

On Iraq, the new Gallup poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed now believe the war was a mistake. Three weeks ago, 58 percent in the same poll supported the war.

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said he is aware of the public's nervousness over Iraq. But he told NBC television that there are some encouraging signs about the upcoming transition of sovereignty.

"This is unsettling. It is an anxious moment there in Iraq. But the important part is that we are making progress," he said. "June 30 is a critical day for the Iraqi people. We have a new Iraqi government. In fact, a new poll in the Washington Post shows upwards of 70 percent of the Iraqi people have confidence in the new Iraqi government."

The latest U.S. polls suggest that Iraq and the domestic economy will be the crucial issues in the November election.