ABC News' The Note: First Source for Political News

How the politics of this are going to play out remains anyone's guess.

ABC News Vote 2004: polls:

The new ABC News- Washington Post poll shows good horse race news for President Bush, but it's tempered with voters' concern about his approach to decision-making and the situation in Iraq. The horse race number among likely voters is 51 percent for Bush, 45 percent for Kerry, and 1 percent for Ralph Nader. Registered voters gave Bush a 52 percent job approval rating, and fewer than half said they are satisfied with the nation's direction, or approve of his work on Iraq or the economy. LINK

ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer spells out Bush's Iraq problem, and sees a possible talking point for Senator Kerry on Thursday: "six in 10 registered voters now say the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, and 51 percent say the war there was not worth fighting — each up six points this month. Also, 55 percent call Bush 'too willing to take risks,' a possible line of Democratic attack."

Nonetheless, by a 13-point margin, voters say they trust the president over the Senator to handle Iraq and terrorism, and by a 5-point margin they trust him over Kerry on the economy. A key reason: Bush's perceived leadership and clarity on the issues. Across the board, Langer Notes, Bush leads Kerry on personal characteristics, and the leadership gap is a whopping 26 points.

"That result is not predictive — the race has been tied and it can be again. But these results present three prime worries for the Kerry camp. One is that, unlike Kerry, Bush has maintained his immediate post-convention gains (the candidate evaluations in this ABC/Post survey are little changed from those in the last). A second is Kerry's weak personal position, which sends him into the debates with a certain lack of good will. And the third is a very broad sense that Kerry hasn't enunciated a clear message; registered voters by 2-1 say Bush has taken clearer stands on the issues."

"Together, these mean that while Bush's task Thursday night is to consolidate and reinforce, Kerry's, more critically, is both to explain his positions in a compelling way, and at the same time to create a more positive rapport with the voting public."

The Washington Post 's Dan Balz and Vanessa Williams write up the poll for the Post , Noting that while Bush "remains a polarizing figure," Bush's relentless attacks on Kerry have badly damaged the Democratic nominee, the survey and interviews showed. Voters routinely describe Kerry as wishy-washy, as a flip-flopper and as a candidate they are not sure they can trust, almost as if they are reading from Bush campaign ad scripts. But Kerry's problems are also partly of his own making. Despite repeated efforts to flesh out his proposals on Iraq, terrorism and other issues, he has yet to break through to undecided voters as someone who has clear plans for fixing the country's biggest problems." LINK

Don't miss the religion gap numbers.

USA Today 's Susan Page writes up the new USA Today /CNN/Gallup poll that shows "a smaller advantage than the president held in mid-September but shows him maintaining a durable edge in a race that was essentially tied for months." Among likely voters, Bush got 52 percent support, and Kerry claimed 44 percent. In terms of right track/wrong track, 52 percent of people think "things are going badly" for the country, but that number is down from 60 percent in June. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry:

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