Speech boosts support among some Utahns

By Wendy Leonard and Suzanne Struglinski
Deseret Morning News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 11 2007 12:28 a.m. MST

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Support for sending more troops into Iraq increased among Utahns following President Bush's announcement of the move, a new poll found.

But the president's speech didn't appear to win over many Utahns who had opposed the administration's overall handling of the war before Bush spoke, according to surveys taken the night before and immediately following the nationally televised speech Wednesday.

The Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV showed a nearly 14-percentage-point increase in support of sending more troops to Iraq. Before his address, 40.5 percent of the 306 adults polled favored the approach, while afterwards, 54.4 percent of the 219 surveyed agreed with the president's plan to deploy an additional 20,000 to the Middle East.

The Tuesday poll had a 5.7 percent margin of error, while Wednesday night's survey had a 6.9 percent error margin.

Before the speech, 53.3 percent disagreed with the additional deployment, while after the speech, 36 percent opposed the tactic. Those undecided made up 6.2 percent before the announcement, and that number grew to 8.7 percent after the speech.

Overall approval ratings of the administration's handling of the war increased slightly as well, but within the margin of error. On Tuesday, 51.3 percent of those polled disapproved of how Bush was handling the conflict. Following his assessment on the situation, that disapproval rating decreased to nearly 43.9 percent who were in disagreement with the president.

Those declaring to be undecided on the issue, however, increased following the president's words. Before his address, 5.9 percent were unsure how they felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Afterwards, 9.1 percent said they didn't know.

In Washington, Utah's Republican lawmakers praised the specificity of the president's plan, while Utah's lone Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson, was unimpressed, saying he heard nothing new. He will need to hear more specifics than what the president laid out, he said.

Democratic leaders said more troops "sends precisely the wrong message." They responded with their own plan for what should happen in the Middle East, laying the groundwork for what is likely to be a power struggle on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said this is a "fundamental" change from what American troops have done in Iraq before but acknowledged there are no easy answers to the situation. He agrees the objective must be to provide Iraq with a secure environment so it can rebuild its own government and economy.

"It's crucial that we succeed in Iraq," Hatch said. "Retreat is not an option, and I think the president made that case strongly. We have to win this. If we walk out of here without accomplishing our mission, Iraq will become a breeding ground for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations."

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said he was "struck by how comprehensive" the speech was and it was clear Bush did his homework on the plan.

"I think we need to give this proposal an opportunity to work before we decide we have to move drastically in the other direction," Bennett said.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said he did not have a specific number that would be the right number of troops to be in Iraq, but he knows "what we are doing now is not working."

"I commend the president's openness to new and different approaches as well as his resolve to defeat the ruthless and immoral enemies of our way of life," Cannon said. "Like other times in our history, winning a war is putting a tremendous strain on America, but, as before in history, the stakes demand that we see it through."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, called the plan a "multi-pronged approach" with military, diplomatic and political elements that "makes sense."

"President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki are wise to tie these elements together, realizing a long-term solution is going to take a comprehensive plan, and taking the steps needed to execute that plan," Bishop said.

But to Matheson the speech was lacking anything new or specific.

"This has been tried before," Matheson said. "What is this going to accomplish? What's different?"

Matheson said the president is still missing a long-term strategy for Iraq, and he did not discuss how this new plan plays into what will happen a year or more from now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., along with other House and Senate Democratic leaders, said the new strategy "endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already over-extended military, thereby making it even more difficult to respond to other crises."

Instead of sending more troops to Iraq, the Democrats want to shift the mission of U.S. forces there to training of Iraqi forces, start a plan to bring troops home and implement an aggressive diplomatic strategy, according to a statement released after the speech.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com; suzanne@desnews.com

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