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Nearly 70 percent pessimistic on war outcome

/ Source: NBC News

Almost two months after President Bush announced he was sending more than 21,000 additional troops into Iraq, saying, “We can, and we will, prevail,” nearly seven in 10 Americans remain pessimistic about the war’s outcome, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

“Iraq is a two-ton boulder in a 100-pound dinghy,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. “There is no way for [Bush] to recover without a recovery in Iraq.”

According to the poll, a whopping 69 percent say they are less confident the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion, compared with just 20 percent who are more confident. That finding is virtually unchanged from the previous two NBC/Journal polls, which were taken in January and December.

What’s more, a similar number believe the war in Afghanistan against al-Qaida and the Taliban is faring poorly. Sixty-nine percent say the war there isn’t going well, versus 28 percent who think it is.

Early presidential front-runners
The poll — which was taken March 2-5 of 1,007 adults, and which had a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — also shows that two well-known New Yorkers, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, remain the front-runners for their parties’ presidential nominations.

Clinton leads Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, 47-39 percent, in a head-to-head match-up of the top two leaders in the Democratic field. And Giuliani is ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain by even a wider margin, 55-34 percent, in a match-up of the top two Republicans.

Nevertheless, both presidential front-runners face obstacles that are blocking their paths to winning the nomination. For Clinton, it’s her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war and her refusal to apologize for it, as well as the fact that she’s seen as a polarizing figure. For Giuliani, it’s his past support for abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples. 

“The front-runners are not without their own challenges,” says Newhouse, the GOP pollster. “And it’s how they deal with these challenges that will determine if they remain as front-runners.”

What is clear is that Americans are paying attention to the presidential race. In the poll, 73 percent say they’re closely following the contest, while just 27 percent say they’re not. But it’s still early. Very early.

“We’re in round one of a 15-round heavyweight battle that may seem explosive and tumultuous and even determinative,” Hart says. “But it’s only round one.”

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News. NBC Political Director Elizabeth Wilner contributed to this article.