WASHINGTON – Maryland voters gave President Bush a remarkable 74 percent job approval rating in a statewide poll conducted last week, up sharply from the 47 percent rating he earned just a year ago.
Bush has gained considerable political strength since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially among the state’s African-American voters, according to the survey released Thursday by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communication.
“I’m not sure that 74 percent job approval will hold up,” pollster Carol Arscott said. “Being sustained for this amount of time is unprecedented and there’s no way of knowing how long it will last. But for a Republican president in a Democratic-leaning state, it’s very, very good numbers.”
More than 25 percent of those polled said the war in Afghanistan was the most important issue facing the country, with homeland security and defense against terrorism, and jobs and the economy near the top of the list. Not surprisingly, those are the issues Bush has emphasized since Sept. 11, Arscott said.
The 833 people polled between Jan. 9 and Jan. 12 also said they valued freedom over security, 61 percent to 17 percent. The poll has a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Barbara Root-Bessenhoffer, owner of the Daisy Hair Salon in Odenton, has always voted for Democrats or independents, but she is supporting Bush now because she agrees with how he has handled national and international affairs since Sept. 11.
“I am thankful that someone went after the terrorists,” she said. “When the (World Trade Center) building got bombed a few years back and nothing happened, I was very disappointed and I was ashamed, as an American, that nothing was done. I am so proud of the president for taking care of this problem.”
Root-Bessenhoffer also said she has found it increasingly difficult to pay the bills at her salon because of lagging business. But she believes Bush is doing his best to create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Strong support for the president could benefit GOP candidates if Bush campaigns for Republicans in this year’s mid-term elections.
“You certainly don’t do yourself any harm by tying yourself to the president,” Arscott said. “Before you would be tying yourself to an anchor. Now you can tie yourself to a helium balloon.”
One possible beneficiary of Bush’s support would be Rep. Bob Ehrlich, R- Timonium, who is weighing a run for governor. Though Ehrlich has not committed to running, aides said they expect the president would campaign for him in such a bid.
“President Bush has committed to helping Congressman Ehrlich should he decide to run in the gubernatorial election this year in Maryland,” said Steve Kreseski, Ehrlich’s chief of staff. “The positive esteem with which Marylanders seem to hold the president currently, without regard to party affiliation, would seem to indicate that he would be a benefit to the campaign.”
Maryland Delegate Al Redmer, R-Baltimore County, said Bush has shown Marylanders the virtues of GOP leadership. He hopes that approval of Bush will fuel Ehrlich’s election as governor.
Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said Bush’s support in Maryland helps the state’s GOP congressional delegation.
“(Bush) makes every other Republican look good,” Wright said. “He has raised the bar for everyone else in Congress. It’s like Michael Jordan on the basketball court. Everyone is better — his teammates and his opponents — when he’s out there.”