President Bush's overwhelming public support is now clearly and unexpectedly helping GOP candidates across the country. In New Jersey, where Bush's approval rating is now a whopping 88 percent (he lost badly to Al Gore in the Garden State), Republican Bret Schundler is closing the gap in his race against Democrat Jim McGreevey to be the state's next governor. A September Quinnipiac University poll found McGreevey's lead cut from 20 points to 14 points, but a Republican National Committee poll taken in October shows McGreevey's lead is now down to just 10 points-43 percent to 33 percent-with nearly one in four still undecided. Analysts believe as Election Day nears, voters are paying more attention to Schundler's proposals to cut property taxes and abolish parkway and turnpike tolls, and to his record of reducing crime by 40 percent as mayor of Jersey City. Schundler has a history of surging late: Five weeks before the GOP primary, the conservative trailed by as many as 20 points in several polls but won by 14. GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Oct. 2 appeared with Schundler at a press conference at Newark Airport-just across the river from where the World Trade Center towers once stood-to stress how safe it is to fly, after which Schundler boarded a commercial flight to a fundraiser. Immensely popular New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani has also pledged to help, as has the president. Vice President Cheney hosted a fundraiser for Schundler in New Jersey over the summer. In the Virginia governor's race, Republican former Attorney General Mark Earley is quickly closing the gap with Democrat businessman Mark Warner. Over the summer, Earley trailed Warner by 11 to 14 points, but now the Richmond Times Dispatch finds Earley within the poll's margin of error-36 percent to Warner's 39 percent with 17 percent undecided. Top aides to Earley acknowledge that the campaign is benefiting from the powerful and growing support for the president. Earley is also finally on offense, attacking a $900 million tax increase Warner slipped into his economic plan when no one appeared to be paying attention in the days just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Democrat now has been forced to run TV ads denying he'll raise taxes and calling himself a "fiscal conservative." California's energy troubles now appear to be over, but Democratic Gov. Gray Davis's political troubles may just be getting started. In a September Field Poll of 1,003 Californians, 50 percent now say they won't support Davis for reelection next year. Davis now slightly trails Republican Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, 45 percent to 42 percent. "We're in a situation where the energy crisis mentality has receded, yet the public's image of the governor has not changed," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told the Sacramento Bee. "No matter what the political temper of the times internationally, there will be issues that are particular to the governor's race. This [energy crisis] issue is what the public has focused their attention on in evaluating Davis, and it's still negative." No sitting California governor has lost reelection since 1942, and it's not yet entirely clear that Riordan-considered too liberal by many Golden State Republicans-is assured the GOP nomination. He could face a primary fight from Secretary of State Bill Jones and conservative businessman Bill Simon. Less than half of Republicans currently say they would support Riordan in a GOP primary, and a full 30 percent remain undecided. Hearing a growing chorus of concern on Capitol Hill and in the business community, President Bush moved to signal his interest in further tax cuts, including a fiscal stimulus package of up to $75 billion. Administration officials are specifically looking for ways to help small businesses grow and expand, though still no word yet on a major cut in the capital-gains tax or immediate expensing and the elimination of complicated depreciation schedules. Labor Department Secretary Elaine Chao will play a major new role in reaching out to small business in the months ahead, possibly beginning with an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late October. Chao has just hired Jean H. Card-a top aide to Jack Faris, president of the National Federation of Independent Businesses-as her new speechwriter.
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