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Pure Horserace: GOP's Bush Fatigue

When the leading Republican candidate for president bemoans the lack of strong leadership these days, it's a pretty clear sign that the party is less than excited about its political prospects. Speaking at a rally in Wilmington, Del., Rudy Giuliani said the feeling that the country is on the wrong track shows a lack of leadership, according to The Associated Press. "What we're lacking is strong, aggressive, bold leadership, like we had with Ronald Reagan," Giuliani said.

In the recent AP-Ipsos poll, just 21 percent said the U.S. is heading in the right direction. When the Republican candidates gathered for last week's debate, they appeared to be putting some distance between themselves and President Bush. Courting the base of the party that has stood firm behind the president for the past 6 1/2 years, it may seem wise not to criticize the administration too much — but there are further signs cracks are developing.

Fundraising appears to be lagging for Republicans, a sign that there is less enthusiasm within the party and something that may hurt the GOP at all levels. Democratic presidential candidates have outraised Republicans by a wide margin so far. And, according to the AP, the president is having less success in that area as well. His annual fundraiser for congressional candidates took in just over $15 million this week. Last year's dinner raised $27 million.

And new numbers from the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll tell more.

According to the poll, just 62 percent of Republicans now approve of the president's performance, while 32 percent disapprove. The administration has angered many in the party by pushing an immigration reform bill that many in the GOP see as amnesty for the millions of immigrants currently in the country illegally.

With the notable exception of Sen. John McCain, the GOP field opposes the current legislation, which might help explain why, after months of signs of discontent with the candidates, 73 percent of Republicans in this poll say they are satisfied with their choices. Another reason for that number: Fred Thompson's campaign. He is in second in the poll, with 20 percent.

In 2000, Democrats faced the thorny issue of how to deal with attitudes toward then-President Clinton, whose relationship with Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent impeachment trial left many in that party wary of getting too close. Already in this cycle, it seems Republicans are facing something similar — Bush fatigue. Vaughn Ververs

Still A Media Darling? Barack Obama had to know it was inevitable — but it's still unwelcome. This week, after bubbling under the surface for months, the Democrat's relationship with an indicted Chicago land developer has been thrust into the media spotlight, thanks to two articles in the Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Times.

The relationship between Obama and Tony Rezko — accused of asking for kickbacks from companies seeking state business — is complicated. It includes the sale of a small amount of land from Rezko's wife to Obama while Rezko was already under investigation — a decision Obama himself called "boneheaded." Rezko also helped Obama raise money for past campaigns — money Obama has since donated to charity. The Sun-Times article focuses on a letter Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, wrote endorsing a housing development, proposed by Rezko, just outside his district. Obama's campaign claims he wrote the letter because the project would have a positive impact on the community — not as a personal favor to Rezko.

No one has accused Obama of doing anything illegal, but appearing chummy with Rezko and his associates, some of whom are now in jail, runs counter to Obama's image as a man above the negative influences of politics. While this controversy is hardly the kind that can sink a candidacy, it shows the media may no longer be treating Obama with kid gloves. The Obama campaign has basked in relatively positive coverage for months. Seeing how it responds to media criticism may say a lot about how Obama's candidacy will do over the long haul. — David Miller

Ode To Obama: So what if the media isn't as kind to Obama as it once was — he's still a huge star on YouTube. First came the pro-Obama/anti-Hillary video that spoofed Apple's landmark "1984" ad, and now comes "I Got A Crush… On Obama," a cheesy pop/R&B love ballad devoted to the Democratic hopeful. Featuring a young, curvaceous and often scantily-clad woman (and some dubious lip synching), the video has logged more than 56,000 views since it appeared on the site on Wednesday.

Featuring such lyrical gems as "you're into border security, let's break this border between you and me," the video also prominently displays the infamous tabloid photo of Obama at the beach in swim trunks, which Obama has bashed the media for using. Even though it's used in a complimentary context this time, we wouldn't be surprised if Obama hopes subsequent tributes to him are a little more… subtle. — David Miller

How To Get Media Coverage: The ears of political reporters everywhere perked up yesterday when they received an e-mail from Tommy Thompson's camp promising a "major announcement about the future" of his presidential campaign. That's the kind of loaded language that puts everyone on "dropout" alert.

By the time dozens of campaign watchers dialed into the conference call, it had become fairly clear that Thompson was not going to be announcing the end of his campaign and the candidate clearly relished the suspense he was able to build throughout the afternoon, saying he was "delighted that you're all here." After a veiled lecture about the failure of the media to cover his policy papers on Iraq, energy and health care, he allowed that "most of you have signed in this afternoon to find out whether or not I was dropping out of the race."

Of course, the answer was no. Thompson was there to answer another oft-asked question — whether his campaign would be participating in the Iowa straw poll. So far, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Jim Gilmore have decided not to commit the resources needed to play in what amounts to a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party, leaving the importance of the event as a barometer of strength in doubt. Thompson left no doubt that he would play in it and play hard, contending that it remained as important as ever if not more so.

Thompson has based his campaign almost solely on an Iowa-first strategy, hoping familiarity he has with voters there as the former governor of neighboring Wisconsin would catapult him into the running. So it was no surprise that he continues to see the straw poll as important. But he certainly found a way to get reporters to pay attention to him — if only for a day. Vaughn Ververs

We Had Him First: Veteran Republican strategist Ed Gillespie has helped run presidential campaigns and served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He's now the counselor to President Bush, being named this week to replace outgoing White House fixture Dan Bartlett. In March, he was our "Political Player," and gave CBS News' Brian Goldsmith his take on the current political landscape. Check out the Gillespie interview here. Vaughn Ververs

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller

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