clark leads bush after 1 week

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    Clark Tied With President Bush in Poll
    Mon Sep 22, 4:18 PM ET

    By WILL LESTER, Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON - Democrat Wesley Clark, in the presidential race for less than a week, is tied with President Bush (news - web sites) in a head-to-head matchup, according to a poll that shows several Democratic candidates strongly challenging the Republican incumbent.

    Clark, a retired Army general, garnered 49 percent support to Bush's 46 percent, which is essentially a tie given the poll's margin of error. The CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll was conducted Sept. 19-21, beginning two days after Clark announced he would become the 10th Democratic candidate for the party's nomination.

    Several other Democrats who have been in the race for months also were close to Bush in direct matchups. Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites) of Massachusetts and Sen. Joe Lieberman (news - web sites) of Connecticut also were tied with the president, while Bush held a slight lead over former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (news - web sites) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (news - web sites) of Missouri.

    In the head-to-head confrontations, it was Kerry at 48 percent to Bush's 47 percent; and Bush's 48 percent to Lieberman's 47 percent. Bush held a slight lead over Dean, 49-45 percent, and had a similar advantage over Gephardt.

    Separately, Clark led all Democratic candidates in the survey released Monday that showed Bush far more vulnerable.

    The president's job approval was 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. The public gave Bush high marks for having the personality and leadership qualities of a chief executive. But just over half, 51 percent, said they disagreed with the president on issues that matter most to them, while 46 percent agree.

    Republican pollster Bill McInturff cautioned against making too much of Clark's early strength in a national poll taken so close to his well-publicized entry into the presidential race.

    "There are plenty of examples where you get this enormous bounce and it usually settles quickly," said McInturff, citing Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record)'s showing in a South Carolina poll taken after his victory in the 2000 New Hampshire primary in 2000.

    Public opinion is extremely unpredictable early in the election cycle as voters have not focused on the race, according to McInturff, who noted that Republican Bob Dole was running ahead of President Clinton (news - web sites) the year before the election. Clinton prevailed in 1996.

    Still, Clark's strong showing in early polls — a Newsweek survey this past weekend showed Clark grouped among the leaders in the Democratic field and not far behind Bush in a head-to-head matchup — will impress Democratic donors, said Dane Strother, a Democratic strategist not aligned with any of the campaigns.

    "If you're number one in the polls, I don't care when it happens," said Strother, who pointed out that Democratic activists also will be closely watching Clark, and "you only get one chance to make a good first impression."

    The battle for the party nomination will be fought state by state, and Clark's strength in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire will be crucial. National polls tend to reflect name recognition and aren't the most accurate indicator of a candidate's viability.

    Among voters who are Democratic or lean Democratic, Clark led all Democratic candidates with 22 percent, Dean had 13 percent, Kerry and Gephardt 11 percent and Lieberman 10 percent. The remaining candidates were in the low single digits.

    The poll of 1,003 adults, including 877 registered voters, had a margin of error of plus of minus 3 percentage points, 4 points for registered voters.
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