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Bush faces decline in approval ratings

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In fact, it's possible that the perception of success and the spread of democracy in Iraq works against Bush in the way his father, the first President Bush, failed to turn his own success in the first Gulf War into victory come reelection time.

"Once he's no longer seen as a struggling wartime commander, the public focuses on more perhaps mundane matters, such as the price of gas," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council.

Bush also doesn't seem to be getting much of a bump from the successes of his new secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, whose latest Gallup Poll numbers (taken March 18-20) show a 61 percent approval rating. It is also questionable whether the most popular person connected to the administration - first lady Laura Bush - could offer any reverse coattails for her husband. On Tuesday, Mrs. Bush left on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to focus on educational initiatives for Afghan women and also meet with President Hamid Karzai and have dinner with US forces at Bagram Air Base.

Bush himself took to the Rose Garden Tuesday to deliver remarks on freedom and democracy, with an audience of Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans. In general, Republican strategists say, Bush can help himself most by keeping his eye on the ball and sticking with his goals.

"You can't change your fundamental agenda, based on week-to-week variations in public opinion polls," says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. "A real leader doesn't do that. A real leader sets some ambitious goals ... and has faith that if they are valuable goals to pursue, public opinion will come along."

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