updated 4/23/2004 12:59:56 AM ET 2004-04-23T04:59:56

Two national surveys released this week, the Washington Post poll and the Gallup poll, show President Bush ahead of John Kerry — this despite three weeks of grim news from Iraq, TV images of U.S. casualties and criticism of Bush from witnesses before the Sept. 11 commission.

Here are two remarkable — and remarkably discordant — numbers from the Washington Post poll: six out of 10 respondents say the United States is bogged down in Iraq, but Bush’s approval rating stands at 51 percent.

One might think the Iraq turmoil would be bad news for Bush’s chances of re-election, yet voters see Bush as stronger and more capable of dealing with national security. Two-thirds of the people in the Post survey said the United States should stay in Iraq until order is restored.

Bush, emphatically running on a national security platform, reminded Americans this week the country is still vulnerable to attack: Americans “saw what happened in Madrid” with the last month’s train bombing, implying it could happen here as well. “This is a hard country to defend.”

But he touted the USA Patriot Act — loathed by civil libertarians — as the way to give investigators more power to find terrorists before they strike.

The Saudi factor
Kerry this week tried to tie Bush to the Saudi regime, blaming both the president and the Saudis for keeping gasoline prices high and conspiring to lower them right before we drive — or perhaps take the bus — to the polls on Nov. 2.

"If, as Bob Woodward reports, it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people,” Kerry said in Florida.  “It is my prayer that Americans are not being held hostage by a secret deal between the White House and a Saudi prince."

Bandar said there was no clandestine deal on oil supplies and wryly noted, “you (Americans) are going through your seasonable tribal warfare now so it's very dangerous to open one's mouth here on any issue.”

Even as he’s on the offensive, Kerry is under sniping from Ralph Nader. In the 1968 race, maverick George Wallace used to say “there’s not a dime worth of difference” between Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey. This week Nader played the Wallace role, telling reporters that Kerry is not offering voters an Iraq policy much different from Bush’s.

Peace movement's 'interesting choice'
"The peace movement in this country's going to have a very interesting choice: whether they're going to basically support two pro-war candidates or whether they're going to support a muscular peace candidate,” he said.

For his part, Kerry said on "Meet the Press," “I'd love to meet with Ralph Nader.  I've known Ralph for 30 years.  I have great respect for so much of what he has done through his lifetime … I'm going to be talking to people who supported Ralph Nader, and I hope that by the end of this campaign those people will decide John Kerry is going to change the direction of our country.”

For the Nader-Kerry meeting to bear fruit for Kerry, the senator would have to change direction on Iraq.

Although it's too soon to tell in how many states Nader’s name will appear on the ballot, this week he did jump the first hurdle in mounting a fiscally credible candidacy, filing with the Federal Election Commission to show he has met the requirements for matching funds.

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