Katrina raises voter doubts about Bush priorities, Republicans worry about elections | VailDaily.com

Katrina raises voter doubts about Bush priorities, Republicans worry about elections

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Hurricane Katrina and the bungled government response have weakened President Bush, raising questions among Americans about his Iraq and Gulf Coast spending plans and spreading fears among fellow Republicans that his troubles could be contagious.An AP-Ipsos poll shows a sharp increase in the percentage of people concerned about the economy since the storm. Less than half approve of Bush’s handling of Katrina. Less than a third give him good marks on gas prices.As many Republicans fear, the survey shows signs of conflict between Bush’s top two priorities: the Iraq war and post-Katrina recovery.Given a choice in the survey, 42 percent favored cutting spending on Iraq to pay for relief efforts on the Gulf Coast, and 29 percent wanted to delay or cancel Republican tax cuts. That’s a whopping 71 percent backing options that Bush doesn’t even have on the table.Two-thirds said the president was spending too much in Iraq. Just as many were concerned the money was not being spent wisely.The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults, conducted for three days after Bush’s address to the nation last week, comes at a low point in his presidency.A variety of polls suggest voters expected the president to act more quickly in the aftermath of Katrina. He’s no longer considered a strong, decisive leader by many voters, a reversal from the 2004 presidential campaign when the wartime incumbent successfully cast himself in those terms.”This is the most important intersection of his presidency,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.With nearly all Democrats and two-thirds of independents soured on his presidency, Bush needs to keep Republican voters happy to avoid a collapse of his ratings. More than eight in 10 Republicans back Bush, but GOP strategists worry about a decline in enthusiasm as next year’s midterm elections draw near.For the first time, senior Republican consultants and lawmakers are warning the White House that Bush’s base is perilously close to deserting him. Nearly six in 10 people disapprove of Bush’s overall performance, unchanged from the record-low rating he had before last week’s televised address from the heart of New Orleans.Several senior Republicans, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss strategy publicly, said Tuesday they’re starting to fear Bush’s troubles could threaten the GOP’s standing among voters in next year’s elections. By an 8-point margin, voters are more likely to call themselves Democrats than Republicans; there was no gap in self-identification a year ago.Worries about his political base may play into two presidential decisions that threaten to divide the GOP: Bush’s nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and his final plans for Katrina spending.Social conservatives are demanding an anti-abortion Supreme Court justice. Some Republicans want him to select a woman or minority, and perhaps avoid a bitter fight by selecting a relative moderate.On Katrina funding, fiscal conservatives are insisting that Bush find spending cuts in programs such as Medicare to offset the massive costs. Judging by the AP-Ipsos survey and other polls, budget cuts would be risky.Some GOP leaders like Gingrich are denouncing “panic appropriations” to government agencies that they say are proven failures. “If we go into the election year as the explainers and managers of failure, we’re going to get hammered,” said Gingrich, calling on Bush to produce bureaucratic reforms while rebuilding the Gulf Coast.Though the president has not specified how he would pay for Gulf Coast recovery projects estimated at $200 billion and more, the public has little interest in two options put forward by the White House: cutting other government spending and adding to the $333 billion deficit.Just 11 percent of respondents favored reductions to other domestic programs like education, welfare, transportation and health care. A slightly higher number, 14 percent, said they favored adding to government debt and gradually paying it back.At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush is acting on the public’s priority issues, including Katrina, gas prices and the war on terror.AP-Ipsos asked half the respondents to rate eight issues in terms of their priorities. The economy and jobs were cited by 25 percent, an 11-point jump since late August.When Katrina was added to the issues list, Gulf Coast recovery was the highest-rated category.”I don’t know where they’re going to come up with this money they’re talking about,” said Jeanne Wright, 67, a Republican-leaning voter from Manchester, Conn.Bush’s best hope may be that Democrats miscalculate as they struggle to find a unified voice post-Katrina.Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., gave a blistering critique of the president on Monday.Another presidential prospect, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has called for an independent commission to investigate the government’s initial response.The poll had a margin of potential sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.Vail, Colorado