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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 22:10 GMT
Will boost for Bush last?

By Rob Watson
BBC Washington correspondent

President Bush had two words for the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - "Good Riddance".

But publicly at least the President has largely resisted any temptation to gloat or to make political capital out of the weekend's dramatic events.

President Bush addresses a news conference on 15 December 2003
Saddam's capture: A massive boost for Bush
In private though the men and women plotting President's Bush re-election must be delighted.

For starters there's the historical context to it all.

The first President Bush may have kicked Saddam out of Kuwait, and President Clinton may have successfully contained him, but Bush the Younger has captured him.

Given the very low opinion of Saddam Hussein in this country, that's no mean feat.

Then one has to consider the opinion polls. Over the least year the polls have consistently shown that over 60% of Americans considered capturing Saddam Hussein vitally important for the war in Iraq to be rated a success.

Well, he has now been captured.

Challenge for the challengers

And then there are the Democratic challengers for the Presidency.

In their public statements all of them praised Saddam's capture, using it as an opportunity to praise the US military.

Did Saddam's capture make Americans more or less likely to re-elect President Bush?
Planning to vote to re-elect even before capture 45%
Not planning to vote to re-elect, more likely now 3%
Not planning to vote to re-elect, mind not changed 43%
Source: Gallup Organisation

But it's difficult to believe that privately there wasn't some groaning at the effect the capture of the former Iraqi leader will have on their own political fortunes.

The candidate who seems most vulnerable is the former governor of Vermont and front runner Howard Dean.

He's been an outspoken opponent of the war against Iraq right from the start.

Until now at least his opposition to the war has seemed his greatest strength among Democrat party activists.

But now he finds himself under attack from the other Democrat hopefuls on the issue, with Senator Joe Lieberman taunting that "if Howard Dean had his way Saddam Hussein would still be in power, not in prison".

Dean's campaign officials have hit back saying the issue wasn't ever about capturing Saddam Hussein but about whether this was the right war at the right time.

At the very least the Democrats now find themselves sniping at each other over Iraq rather than at the President, though just how the capture of Saddam Hussein will affect the race for the Democrat nomination is hard to predict.

Long road to the White House

Perhaps what's more straightforward is the Presidential election next November.
Did Saddam's capture make Americans more or less likely to re-elect President Bush?
Planning to vote to re-elect even before capture 45%
Not planning to vote to re-elect, more likely now 3%
Not planning to vote to re-elect, mind not changed 43%
source: Gallup Organisation

Both Republicans and Democrats readily acknowledge the outcome will depend in large part on the economy and Iraq.

On the economy the latest figures show distinct improvement.

On Iraq, there is a sense among analysts that the capture of Saddam Hussein is likely to inoculate the President against some of the bad things that could happen in Iraq between now and next November.

That said there's still almost a year to go before the votes are cast and while Saddam's capture is a massive boost, a year is very long time in politics.




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