PORTLAND (AP) – The chairman of the Republican National Committee is predicting that President Bush will do something no Republican presidential candidate has done since 1988: Win Maine.

Ed Gillespie said that the 2004 campaign will be close, and that the Democratic Party nominee will put up a tough battle. But, Gillespie said Tuesday, the president’s “strong and principled” leadership will win not only Maine, but also states that traditionally vote for Democratic presidential candidates.

“When the president engages and begins taking his message to the American people…when he starts making a case for his positive agenda…we are going to be competitive in states like Maine and New York and the West Coast in a way we haven’t been in a long time,” said Gillespie.

, who was in Maine for party fund-raisers in Bangor and Portland.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, said in a phone interview that Bush’s approval ratings are falling, and that a number of recent polls show that 40 to 43 percent of Americans would re-elect him president.

Gillespie said the president’s tumbling poll numbers are predictable, not because the president is doing anything wrong, but because his numbers in April were “unsustainably high.”

He said the president’s approval ratings are higher than former President Clinton’s and former President Reagan’s were at this point in their presidencies, and that those two were re-elected.

He said he did not know the approval numbers of President Bush’s father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, at this point in his presidency.

McAuliffe did: 12 to 16 points higher.

“And his father’s deficit was half the size of the son’s and his father didn’t have American soldiers being killed in Iraq,” McAuliffe said.

AP-ES-08-27-03 0216EDT

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