Political News Summary: March 11: The Anniversary

Six months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush's approval ratings remain up in the clouds, at 82 percent in the latest ABCNEWS Washington Post poll, and at 80 percent in the new Gallup survey.

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In the time since September 11, Democrats have gone from lockstep support for the president on the war to cautious questioning of his handling of it (prompting immediate Republican pummeling and frenzied cable news coverage), with a slight drop-off in public support for the war being a possible weak spot for the otherwise high-flying Commander in Chief.

With the president's popularity tied so closely to support for the war, Polling Director Gary Langer notes that "there has been an 18-point drop since the fall of the Taliban in views that the fighting in Afghanistan is going 'very' well for the United States — perhaps reflecting recent casualties. And 'strong' support for Bush and the war, while still healthy, are down from their early-October highs."

"There's also increasing public concern about views in the Muslim world, marked by a 21-point increase in the number of Americans who say the United States is not doing all it can to win support there. And support for attacking Iraq falls sharply if U.S. allies don't line up behind the idea."

The weekend revelation about the administration's posture toward the use of nuclear weapons is sure to continue to kick up international dust this week, along with the Cheney and Zinni missions, with possible domestic blowback.

On more traditional domestic issues, in the last six months, Democrats have gone from zero back to 60 in terms of partisanship over the economy, taxes, Social Security, Enron, and energy (prompting less frenzied news coverage and little perceptible erosion of Bush's standing in the polls). And Bush has returned to the political circuit, making a day-trip habit of pairing fundraisers with substantive events.

Six months after the attacks, and just shy of seven months out from election day 2002 — and with the papers and morning shows running over with observances, and little big-time political news out there — today is as good a day as any to mull over the possibility that Bush's numbers might just stay at or near these high levels through early November, buoying the hopes of GOP candidates on the ballot.

That would amount to the second half of the bottom falling out for Democrats, who have plotted and proceeded all these months hoping and assuming that by election time, the economy still would be staggering and Bush's popularity would sink back down to its pre-September 11 levels, giving them an opening to take advantage of the normal pattern in which the president's party loses seats in midterm elections.

The oats-feeling President was kidding (right?) when he said this at Saturday's Gridiron dinner, per the Washington Post : "'I sat here tonight and listened to Senator Daschle make joke after joke at my expense. I can't believe I once hugged that man,' he said."

"'Karl Rove tells me that you're thinking about running. What are you going to run on, Tom? Patients' Bill of Rights? I'm for it. Enron? I'm against it. Campaign reform? I'll sign it. Child care? Tom, I'm gonna expand child care to those who don't even have children.'"

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