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Bush clear leader in poll
WASHINGTON — President Bush has surged to a 13-point lead over Sen. John Kerry among likely voters, a new Gallup Poll shows. The 55%-42% match-up is the first statistically significant edge either candidate has held this year. (Related item: Poll results)

Among registered voters, Bush is ahead 52%-44%.

The boost Bush received from the Republican convention has increased rather than dissipated, reshaping a race that for months has been nearly tied. Kerry is facing warnings from Democrats that his campaign is seriously off-track.

With 46 days until the election, analysts say the proposed presidential debates offer Kerry his best chance to change the race.

"It doesn't look like the new consultants and strategies of attacks are the right ones" for Kerry, says Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush campaign. Kerry in recent weeks added veterans of the Clinton White House to his team and began criticizing Bush more sharply on Iraq and other issues.

Dowd says Kerry at this point would "have to defy history" to defeat a sitting president.

"We have seen some bouncing around in the numbers," says Mike McCurry, a top Kerry adviser, "but it is our sense that the race is moving back to a much closer race."

A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday shows a tighter contest. The survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, gives Bush a statistically insignificant lead of 47%-46% among likely voters.

The Gallup Poll was taken Monday through Wednesday.

Presidential candidates have won after trailing by similar margins. One was George W. Bush himself. In 2000, he was behind Al Gore by 10 points among registered voters in early October and then prevailed in the Electoral College, though he lost the popular vote.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was down 8 points in the Gallup Poll in late October but won in a landslide after doing well in the only debate held with President Carter.

"Sen. Kerry is like Seabiscuit: He runs better from behind," says Donna Brazile, who was Gore's campaign manager. But she acknowledges that "backbenchers" in the Democratic Party "have begun pushing the panic button."

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