Bush Has Good Shot to Grab Democratic States in 2004

President Bush has a good shot at winning over those states he lost in the controversial 2000 presidential election.

Pollsters say the country's close political balance has shifted at the top of the ticket and Bush is showing surprising strength in many states that will be crucial for Democrats in 2004.

Bush lost some of these states to former Vice President Al Gore, when he made a presidential run in 2000 with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate.

Not only has Bush been dominating national polls, but he's also eating up critical Democratic support ground in states normally a shoe-in for the left side of the political aisle.

"The parties remain pretty balanced," said Robert Shapiro, a public opinion specialist at Columbia University. "We have competitive elections for control of the House and the Senate. Where we find the imbalance is in regard to the presidency."

The presidential race will be fought out state by state, so it's worth looking where the president stands in several states that would be vital parts of a winning Democratic strategy.

Some state pollsters attending the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (search ) offered their views.

In New York state, Bush is wildly popular and leads the Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups in the Democratic-leaning state, said Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac poll. "If the Democrats don't hold onto New York, there's no way they can win the nation," he said.

In New Jersey, Bush is more popular than Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is wrestling with budget problems and other political problems, said Cliff Zukin, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and a pollster.

In Minnesota, a competitive state won by Gore three years ago, Bush is popular overall and his ratings on the war are strong, although he is more vulnerable on the economy, said Robert Daves, a pollster at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

In California, the president is relatively popular among Hispanics, which could help curry favor among the minority community there and neutralize a Democratic trend in the state in recent years, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

"The burden is on the Democrats to put forth a credible candidate," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They have another problem of creating any kind of credible support for Democratic foreign policy and anti-terrorism policy."

Even if the public decides to focus more toward the economy and less toward terrorism policy, it's still murky as to whether the Democrats will be helped automatically, said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll.

Bush earned his stripes in leading the country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the subsequent war on terror and in Iraq, but many critics have said that with his intense focus on fighting terror, he let the economy here at home slide.

He has spent many recent days stumping for his tax-cut plan as Congress mulls his over $700 billion proposal. He's trying, in part, to make up for lost time as the economy continues its downswing.

"Bush has been pushing tax cuts in the face of public indifference," said Newport. "But if you take something and push it, it shows you're interested."

The potency of the economy as an issue for Democrats may require a shift from public worries about the economy to worries about their own personal situations, said Zukin.

The Senate narrowly passed Bush's $350 billion package of tax cuts Thursday, which includes suspending all taxes on stock dividends for the next three years. Passed on a 51-49 mostly party-line vote, the Republican bill is less than half the size Bush originally sought.

The bill still has to be reconciled with the House version, which calls for $550 billion.

Pollsters are closely watching Bush's position in the polls overall and on the economy for signs of weakness. They note his approval rating had been dropping steadily before the spike upward with the war against Iraq.

But while the pollsters say they expect to see an increased public focus on the economy in the coming months, many acknowledged the fears over terrorism will remain a potent and unpredictable factor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.