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On the April 8 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert compared the results of a March 29-April 1 Diageo/Hotline poll that asked respondents to pick between a "generic" Democrat and a "generic" Republican in the 2008 presidential election, with the results of a March 27-28 Fox News poll that offered respondents specific 2008 matchups between candidates from both parties. Russert noted that while Democrats led by a substantial margin in the Diageo/Hotline poll, the Fox News survey showed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) trailing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) in individual matchups. NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory responded that this difference was partly due to "a carryover of Bush's strength in the Bush years, which is management of foreign policy and management of the war on terror." But Gregory's suggestion -- that GOP candidates are benefiting from public support for President Bush's handling of "foreign policy" and "the war on terror" -- is contradicted by recent polls showing that a plurality of Americans disapprove of Bush's performance in these areas. For instance, a March 28-29 Newsweek poll found 45 percent of respondents approved of "the way Bush is handling terrorism and homeland security," while 49 percent disapproved. In the same poll, 28 percent approved of "the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq," while 65 percent disapproved. Similarly, in a March 23-25 USA Today/Gallup poll, the approval-disapproval numbers were 45 percent-50 percent on "terrorism," 33 percent-63 percent on "foreign affairs," and 28 percent-69 percent on "[t]he situation in Iraq."
Similarly, on the April 6 edition of NBC's Today, Russert claimed that "Democrats have always had a difficulty being competitive with the Republicans in the public voters' mind on national security and foreign policy issues," However, as Media Matters for America noted, polling does not back up the common claim that Bush and Republicans are "always" seen as stronger on these issues. In fact, several polls in the past year found that Democrats had an advantage on national security and foreign policy.
On Meet the Press, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne responded to Gregory by asserting that "national security has become Iraq. So I don't think it's the advantage it once was."
From the April 8 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: Before we go, I want to end with this because it's quite striking to me. This was a poll about attitudes towards a Republican candidate, Democratic candidate -- generic. "Who would you support?" And let's look at it. The Democratic candidate, people say 47 percent, that's who we want. The Republican candidate, 29 percent. And yet, when you do the horse race between a specific Republican and a specific Democrat, look at this. McCain-Clinton, 47-43, the Republican. We do Giuliani-Clinton, 45-44. Giuliani-[Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL], 43-43.
Chuck Todd [NBC News political director]?
TODD: I think I had one Democratic operative from one of the second-tier Democratic candidates, he said, "Could it be that Clinton and Obama are the only two Democrats that can't win in 2008?" But I think, when you look at this, it's -- it does show a weakness in the Republican Party. Look, every -- even blowout presidential elections are still decided within a margin of eight to 10 points, as far as a national vote's concerned. So you're going to have a case where it's -- whoever the Republican nominee's always going to be sitting in those mid-40s. The problem is, for the Republicans have is that there clearly is a change movement inside with, sort of swing, independent votes, and independents look like they're going to largely, right now, go Democratic. Generically --
RUSSERT: We saw that in '06. Will we see it in '08?
TODD: -- pull the Democrat.
GREGORY: But I think there's also a carryover of Bush's strength in the Bush years, which is management of foreign policy and management of the war on terror. And I think Democrats -- one of the reasons they do want to assert themselves on foreign policy is to persuade voters that "we can own this issue, and we can be trusted with it."
O'BEIRNE: Well, that traditional advantage Republicans have enjoyed that's helped so much in presidential races, national security -- national security has become Iraq. So I don't think it's the advantage it once was. The Republicans have a real brand problem, brand-name problem. It used to be people thought they might not much like big government, but they can run it. Now they seem to like it fine, but not be able to run it at all. A Democrat has to be favored in '08.
RUSSERT: No matter who it is?
O'BEIRNE: I think any Democrat has to be favored in '08, yeah. I think Republicans have a real brand-name problem. It's become a competency problem. We see a competency primary going on on the GOP side.