President Bush starts this election year in a relatively strong position among Hispanics, who reacted favorably to the capture of Saddam Hussein (search), according to poll results released Thursday.

More than half, 54 percent, in the poll done for the Pew Hispanic Center (search) in early January, said they think the president is doing a good job.

Almost four in 10, 37 percent, said they would like to see President Bush re-elected. Less than half in the poll, 47 percent, said they would prefer that a Democratic candidate win the election.

Those results are significantly better for Bush than in a poll taken by the same group right before the capture of Saddam.

"This shows serious inroads into what had previously been a traditionally Democratic constituency," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Suro said the poll shows where Hispanic opinion on Bush was just before his latest push to win over Hispanic support.

The January poll was taken just before Bush proposed a plan that could brighten his election-year prospects with Hispanic voters (search), a fast-growing part of the electorate. Bush on Wednesday proposed granting legal status - at least temporarily - for millions of illegal immigrants working in the United States.

Hispanics were divided about whether the president has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion. And slightly more, by 50 percent to 40 percent, said the war in Iraq has not been worth the toll in American lives and other costs. In early December, they said the war in Iraq was not worth the toll by a 2-1 margin.

Pollster Sergio Bendixen said the level of support for Bush's re-election should not be overemphasized since the poll was of Hispanic adults, not Hispanic voters. But he said the level of support from Hispanics had been dropping through 2003, and definitely moved up over the last month.

"These two polls show the volatility of Hispanics and tend to reinforce those who feel Hispanics are a swing vote in the 2004 election," Bendixen said.

In the poll taken in early December, fewer than half of the Hispanics said Bush was doing a good job, and about a fourth said they would vote to re-elect him.

Hispanics were evenly split on his handling of the economy in the January poll, and a majority thought he made the right decision in using military force in Iraq. He improved his standing on both issues since early December.

Democrat Al Gore got 62 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, according to exit polls, while Bush got 35 percent.

Hispanics make up an increased share of the electorate in many states in the South and West that will be important in the general election, so any gains among Hispanics by Bush this year could be significant.

The two polls of 500 Hispanics each were conducted Dec. 8-11 and Jan. 2-4 by Bendixen and Associates (search) and have margins of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.