President Bush's continued edge over Democrat John Kerry (search) on leadership skills and battling terrorism are keeping the presidential race close despite widespread concerns about Iraq, a bipartisan poll suggests.

The Battleground Poll, sponsored by George Washington University (search), found Bush and Kerry running even, with 48 percent each in a two-way matchup. It also found signs the public is growing slightly more optimistic about the economy.

Kerry has the advantage with voters on issues ranging from Social Security and prescription drugs to jobs and federal spending. Bush leads on handling terrorism and has a slight edge on Iraq and — in this poll — on taxes.

Just over half in the Battleground Poll, 51 percent, said it's time to give a new person a chance to be president. Yet Bush continually matches up evenly against Kerry in many polls.

The reasons for that may be personal.

"The qualities of leadership are driving the vote," said Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who helped produce the poll. "The only issue driving the vote is Iraq. The other things determining the vote are personal qualities."

Bush continues to hold the lead he has had for months on strong leadership, on saying what he believes and on being steady and consistent.

Kerry still has problems with voters on "flip-flopping and steady leadership," Lake said. Bush's re-election campaign spent more than $80 million on campaign ads through the spring intended to raise doubts on those fronts.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who helped produce the poll, said Kerry is stronger than Bush only on one of the qualities tested in the survey — that he cares about people.

And Bush is now tied on which candidate would do a better job of keeping America prosperous, after Kerry led in late March in that area. And optimism is growing about the future of the economy six months from now.

When the economy was weakest, Bush was seen as stronger on the war in Iraq and fighting terror. Now that his support for the war is sinking, his standing on the economy is improving.

The longer the two main issues of the election — the Iraq war and the economy — continue to offset one another in public perception, the more important character issues will become, said Goeas.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken June 20-23 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.