Between Iraq, the summit, and Reagan's passing, Kerry has been effectively sidelined.
In some ways, the body language said it all.
French President Jacques Chirac and President Bush, after a year of strained relations, pose for the mandatory handshake outside the G-8 conference room. But as they turn to enter, there's a certain bonhomie as Mr. Bush pats Mr. Chirac on the back. And Chirac, feeling Bush's hand on his jacket, pats the president in return.
Amid the humidity and heat of Sea Island, Bush is getting a bounce after weeks of bad news. The summit, which is expected to end with a number of substantive agreements, will cap off a week in which the president trumpeted liberty on the beaches of Normandy, won a unanimous vote at the UN on Iraq, and was highly visible paying tribute to his icon, Ronald Reagan.
Yet the bounce from one week of speeches and summits, and a nominal move toward more international cooperation on Iraq, could dissipate quickly if violence persists in Iraq and high energy prices undermine the budding economic recovery.
Experts point out that Americans have a notoriously short political memory. "We're at a point there's going to be a Bush bounce," says Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution in Washington. "But we're still a long way from Nov. 2, and there will other bounces along the way."
Even before the meeting at Sea Island, Bush may have been gaining ground. A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, conducted June 1-6, shows the president beating Democratic challenger John Kerry narrowly (45 percent to 44), in a two-man matchup. A month before Kerry had a slight edge (43 to 42), but in both months the gap is smaller than the poll's margin of error.
Over the past several weeks, Democratic challenger John Kerry has hammered the president over foreign policy. He has been especially critical over not involving more of the international community. "They looked to force before exhausting diplomacy, they bullied when they should have persuaded, they have gone it alone when they should have assembled a team," Kerry said in a speech on May 27 in Seattle.
But this week between Iraq, the summit, and the death of Ronald Reagan, the Massachusetts senator has been effectively sidelined.
American University's James Thurber points out that the approval ratings can make major swings. The ratings for the elder President Bush went from 91 percent right after the Iraq war to 38 percent before he lost the election. He says of the current president, "Bush is not doing well in the battleground states, and those are the polls to watch."