This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, September 20, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: So far, there's been a lot of focus on the growing Democratic field and what they're doing to knock President Bush (search) off stride. But what about the president's reelection strategy and political health?
Joining us to take a look is Republican pollster Bill McInturff. He did polling for John McCain (search) in 2000 and polls for a number of congressional and gubernatorial candidates nationwide.
BILL MCINTURFF, PUBLIC OPINION STRATEGIES: Hi, good to see…good to be back again. Thank you.
BARNES: Yes, Bill, one of the measures of a president's health is his job approval rating. And Bush's numbers range from a high of 58 percent in the FOX News poll and Washington Post polls to a low of 45 percent in the Zogby poll. Do these suggest that the president's reelection is in real trouble?
MCINTURFF: No, I don't think the reelection is in trouble. But I do think there's an adjustment going on. But we've seen two years of really an extraordinary history, and that is, the president, since the attack, having job approval of about 60 percent or higher. Those days are gone, and we're suddenly back to a much more traditional view of the American presidency.
I think Bush's numbers are probably in the low to mid-50s. But look, we have to have context here. President who get reelected in the last…out of the last six incumbents, three have won, three have lost…the three who've won had presidential approval right where Bush is, in the low to mid-50s. By any historic center, these are good solid numbers. And I think he's going to stay in this range for the foreseeable future.
BARNES: Yes, let me ask you about another number, and I know it's one you pay attention to...
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: ... that's right track, wrong track. And I think now it's just a little over a third of Americans think the country is on the right track. And the majority think the country is on the wrong track. Doesn't that suggest Bush is in trouble?
MCINTURFF: Well, if the numbers sink lower, I think yes. Look, right direction, 35 percent, which is a key barometer a pollster uses, not a great number. You want to have right direction at least in the mid-40s when…by the time we get to this election.
I spent a lot of time looking at this question. I looked at the Michigan consumer confidence number, and I think right direction ought to be in the low 40s. And what's happening is, the news environment, meaning specifically what's happening in Iraq and the president's request for $87 million…billion in Iraq, has helped depress that number.
KONDRACKE: Well, Bill, the, the Michigan consumer confidence index is down to 88.2, and I believe you normally say that it has to be at 90 in order for a president to get reelected, so...
MCINTURFF: Well, again, let's kind of get a grip. And my get-a-grip part of the conversation is that presidents who've lost have had Michigan consumer ratings of between 65 to the low 70s. So whether we're at 88 and 89…look, these are good, stable numbers that provide an environment in which to reelect the president.
MCINTURFF: And all I'm suggesting is that there's no question that the Iraq story's going to putting the thumbs down in terms of people's optimism. And I think artificially right now slightly lowering the president's standing.
KONDRACKE: When you, when you put Bush up against a generic Democrat unnamed, you know, he's leading by, you know, like, 5 points, and he's down below 50 percent. Do you give any credence to those kind of numbers?
MCINTURFF: Well, yes, again, I think, yes, because they're unnamed Democrats. That means you can kind of fill the vacuum with anyone you'd like. That's different than when the president gets to run against a named opponent. When that happens, he gets right up to the mid-50s. And as I keep trying to say, people, good humouredly, I'm sorry, the president, I think, is going to win a comfortable reelection.
But guess what? He's not going to do it with 60 percent of the vote. It's going to be…he'll be in the low 50s, and the Dem…any credible Democrat is going to be in the low to mid-40s, at a base. That's the base in this country.
And so seeing results that say that a Democrat's going to be in the low to mid-40s on a generic ballot, they ought to be there. That's the minimum you'd expect from any…from the Democrat Party. That's just the structure of the two parties that we have in this country.
BARNES: The…a Democratic pollster you know, Mark Penn…
BARNES: ... who's polled for Bill Clinton and now for Joe Lieberman, found in a poll he did recently that the Democratic idea, in other words, the percentage of Americans...
BARNES: ... who identify with the Democratic Party, was at its lowest point since before Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932. I mean, that sounds to me like a party that couldn't beat Bush even if he were in more trouble.
MCINTURFF: Well, people do have concerns about the Democrats, and the specific concerns do deal with national security and terrorism. I mean, one thing that's really powerful is, look, again, let's be candid, this is what's happening in public opinion. There's a lot of concern about Iraq.
But still, amongst voters, and if there's about one out of four of them who say national security or terrorism is their most important problem, Bush is beating the Democrat on that generic vote by 40 to 45 points.
And he's been there that way for six months.
There's just not much evidence the Democrats have yet been able to put themselves in a position to be perceived as being credible in terms of defending...
MCINTURFF: ... this country's interests abroad.
KONDRACKE: Now, Bill, you're, you're obviously a Republican...
KONDRACKE: ... but as you look at the Democratic field and the way that the campaign is going, who do your bones tell you is going to emerge as the nominee? And what, what is General Wesley Clark going to bring to this race?
MCINTURFF: Well, I've been saying for since the attack, I thought the Democrat Party would implode, and then that, I think, I said we'd see an antiwar candidate and someone who was against military action emerge as their nominee. I still think that's the case, and I still think that's the flavor of the Democrat Party.
And I…man, I could be terribly wrong. But I just don't get this whole Wesley Clark thing. The guy is getting in way too late. He doesn't have the structure, staff, money, or experience.
And frankly, he's got two choices. He could have been the antiwar Democrat and then been like all the rest of them. But instead, yesterday he says, Oh, look, I would have voted for the war…the Iraq resolution. And…can't win the nomination.
BARNES: Yes, could Hillary Clinton beat George Bush in 2004?
BARNES: All right. Thanks, Bill.
MCINTURFF: Thank you.
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