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Bush's approval rating falls to 37%

Some influential Republicans pushing for new blood on staff

WASHINGTON — President Bush's job approval has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency amid worries over the Iraq war, a fumbled Supreme Court nomination, the indictment of one White House aide and uncertainty about another.

Concerned that the president has lost his footing, some influential Republicans are urging Bush to shake up his staff and bring in new blood.

A new AP-Ipsos poll found Bush's approval rating was at 37 percent, compared with 39 percent a month ago. About 59 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved.

The intensity of disapproval is the strongest to date, with 42 percent now saying they "strongly disapprove" of how Bush is handling his job — twice as many as the 20 percent who said they "strongly approve."

A year after his re-election, Bush's second term has been marred by rising U.S. casualties in Iraq, a failed attempt to restructure Social Security, Hurricane Katrina missteps, rising fuel costs and his forced withdrawal of the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers.

In a case involving the exposure of a CIA agent married to an Iraq war critic, Vice President Dick Cheney's former aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to investigators. The case casts a continuing cloud over Cheney and keeps Bush's closest adviser, Karl Rove, in legal jeopardy.

Republicans are worrying about losing their majorities in Congress in the 2006 elections and hope Bush can reverse his slide.

Several senior Republicans who are close to the White House and Rove say there has been a lot of talk inside and outside the White House about the need for him to leave, but they're picking up no indication from him or his associates that it's going to happen — at least anytime soon.

Neither Bush nor Rove has seemed to get the message, the Republicans say.

Democrats have kept up the attack. "The 2006 midterm elections will be our next opportunity to change the environment of corruption and incompetence in Washington," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday in a fund-raising letter to Democrats. Reid has called for Rove's resignation and a "thorough house cleaning" at the White House.

In the AP-Ipsos poll, nearly one in five Republicans disapproved of Bush's handling of his job, compared with nearly nine in 10 Democrats. Nearly seven in 10 independents disapproved.

The president has lost support from some key groups of constituents over the past year. He's dropped 16 points in his approval rating with men in that time, 18 points with people who have a high school education or less, 16 points among Southerners and 13 points among Republicans.

The poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 31-Nov. 2 among 1,006 adults nationwide. The margin on sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Congress isn't faring much better.

In early October, 35 percent of poll respondents approved of the job being done by Congress, down from 44 percent in February.

In December 2004, soon after Bush's re-election, 51 percent approved of his handling of his job, while 47 disapproved, and 28 disapproved strongly.

"I'm surprised it's not even worse" in terms of Bush's latest poll numbers, said GOP consultant Rich Galen. He cited three months of unrelenting bad news that have Republicans "beginning to scratch their heads."

Away from Washington, Republican leaders seemed concerned about Bush's drift downward in the polls and about Iraq, where the 2,000th U.S. military death was recently recorded — and less troubled about the CIA-leak case and the controversy surrounding Rove and Libby.

"I think the war in Iraq being on the front page every day has taken its toll," said Van Poole, former Florida GOP chairman and now a Tallahassee lobbyist. "Americans are impatient. Whatever our job is, Americans want us to get it done. Bush will bounce back."

Poole shrugged off the CIA-leak investigation. "Most people I've talked to think it was a big waste of money, taking as much time as it did."

Republican pollster David Winston said Presidents Reagan and Clinton recovered from low poll figures in their second terms and Bush should as well. Bush has been battered by many events over which he had no or little control, but next month's Iraqi elections and signs of an improving economy should help him bounce back, Winston said.

As to Rove's status, "People are more interested in gas prices, how's the war on terror going, how's my child's education," Winston said.

Political scientist Kenneth Warren of Saint Louis University said the Rove and Libby matter was undermining Bush's credibility and helping to drive down his numbers. Still, he said the economy and Iraq remain the foremost issues for most Americans.

"I don't think Bush has much chance of recovering from the slump. I can see the economy getting better, but I can't see Iraq getting better," Warren said.