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Who can beat Captain America? - Billy Corriher

With Sen. John Kerry jumping out in front of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, more and more primary voters are pointing to Kerry's "electability" as the secret to his allure.

A CNN/USA Today/ Gallop poll released a week ago shows that when 562 likely voters were asked about a Kerry/Bush race in November, 53 percent said they would vote for Kerry, and 46 percent favored President Bush, with a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Kerry's record of military service has won him support from many voters, including veterans. On foreign policy, Kerry can also claim to have more experience than Bush had when he took office.

But Kerry did support Bush's case for war with Iraq, which makes me wonder how interesting the foreign policy debate between the two would be.

If Howard Dean or Gen. Wesley Clark were to get the nomination, they could credibly assail the president's case for going to war. And they would have a lot of ammunition.

An anti-war candidate could throw the findings (or lack thereof) of weapons inspector David Kay at Bush. There's no way the president's case for war with Iraq would stand up in a debate with an anti-war Democratic candidate.

Bush has been throwing around other rationales for war (it made the region and the world safer, he freed a long-suffering people), but is not strongly standing behind his original claims.

It's true the world is better without Saddam Hussein in power, but the fact is Bush was not entirely truthful with the American people about why we took him out. He scared the public into believing he was an imminent threat. Now we know he wasn't.

But I'm not sure if any of that will matter. Bush is untouchable in the eyes of his conservative base.

Nothing Bush says or does will change the way half the country thinks of him. The same poll that showed Kerry leading Bush showed that the president was seen as more patriotic than Kerry, 49 percent to 34 percent.

I find it hard to swallow that Bush, who earned his stripes in the National Guard keeping the Vietcong out of Texas, is more patriotic than Kerry, who put his life on the line serving his country in Vietnam.

Either that 49 percent has a warped sense of patriotism, or the respondents aren't paying real attention to the candidates.

I think the problem is the latter. With his sound-bite bravado, Bush has convinced much of the American people that he's some kind of cowboy Captain America.

But with the economy still sputtering and soldiers still in danger in Iraq, the president's approval is starting to slip. Since 9/11, many have thought Bush was unbeatable.

Now that the Democratic primary candidates have been getting so much press coverage, the public is seeing some chinks in his armor. I think if Kerry or Sen. John Edwards gets the nomination, though, the Democrats will not get to exploit what is, to me, one of Bush's most obvious weakness, the justification for war with Iraq.

Kerry and Edwards, always the savvy politicians, went along with Bush's case because it was overwhelmingly popular with the American people. If the two contenders hadn't jumped on the neo-conservative's bandwagon, it would have given them a nice left hook to use if they were thrown into the ring with Bush.

Billy Corriher covers government and politics for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 281 or at bcorriher@news-daily.com.