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Bush poll slump, miscues put Republicans on edge

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 2 (Reuters) President George W Bush's slumping popularity is stirring election-year anxiety among some Republicans taken aback by his failure to head off tempests such as dispute over an Arab company's plans to take over key US port operations.

Bush's approval rating dropped to an all-time low of 34 per cent in a CBS poll this week and has been mired around a lackluster 40 percent in other recent polls.

The president's weakness portends a tough battle for Bush's fellow Republicans who face a challenge from Democrats to their dominance in both houses of the US Congress in the November midterm elections, political analysts say.

''The prospects look very grim for Republicans,'' said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. He said the poll numbers also bode poorly for key items on Bush's domestic agenda, such as immigration reform and his push to make tax cuts permanent.

Republicans will increasingly be forced to choose between loyalty to the White House and their own viability, Baker and other analysts said.

The uproar over the ports and growing chaos in Iraq after last week's bombing of a major Shi'ite mosque are the latest in a list of troubles that have weighed on the Bush White House and marred its reputation for agility and political astuteness.

Other woes have included a botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the demise of Bush's push to overhaul Social Security change and the failed nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, to the US Supreme Court.

On issues such as the ports deal, some Republicans have already begun distancing themselves from Bush.

''The White House did a terrible job of informing people about this,'' said one Republican close to the administration.

A rebellion of some kind might have been inevitable given the series of missteps brought to the fore by Katrina, a Republican congressional aide said. ''Republicans were looking for a way to distance themselves from Bush and this gave them a way to do it,'' the aide said.

MORE REUTERS DH RAI0435

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