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Post-Ivan polls give Bush a boost

President Bush has taken a slight lead over Democratic challenger John Kerry in two Florida polls in the aftermath of three hurricanes that ravaged the state in five weeks.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows 49 percent of respondents favoring Bush, 41 percent for Kerry and 5 percent for independent Ralph Nader.

A Gallup poll taken for CNN and USA Today, also released Thursday, shows Bush with 49 percent, Kerry with 46 percent and Nader with 2 percent.

However, a poll conducted in Florida by the American Research Group shows Kerry favored by 46 percent and Bush by 45 percent.

The polls leave some questions about the state of the race. Polling is difficult when large portions of the state are recovering from hurricanes, including the most recent storm, Ivan, which badly damaged the Panhandle. Many people have lost or evacuated their homes and can't be reached.

The Quinnipiac survey also indicated the state's U.S. Senate contest between Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Betty Castor is a virtual tossup. Each was seen favorably by nearly a third of those questioned, but just 16 percent said they've paid close attention to the race for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

The Gallup poll gave Castor the edge, 51 percent to 45 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll of 819 likely voters taken Sept. 18-21 has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Gallup polled 674 likely voters Sept. 18-22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The ARG poll of 600 likely voters Sept. 17-20 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"The ill winds of the hurricane season have blown a lot of political good for President Bush, if you look at the numbers who give Bush credit for coming to Florida," Quinnipiac assistant polling director Clay Richards said. "

In Quinnipiac's poll, Florida voters said Bush was a better leader than Kerry by 57 percent to 37 percent and has done a better job explaining what he would do as president, 54 percent to 37 percent. Its poll Aug. 12 had Kerry slightly ahead overall, 47 percent to 41 percent.

In the later poll, voters approved Bush's handling of the hurricanes by 78 percent to 14 percent and 50 percent said they approved of the president's overall performance compared with 47 percent who disapproved. That reversed the August figures of 54 percent disapproval, 44 percent approval.

Kerry, meanwhile, was rated favorably by 34 percent and unfavorably by 41 percent.