The Political Fallout: Bush's New War Plan; as Bush's Job-Approval Numbers Hit a New Low, He's Turning to His Wife to Help Him Make the Case for His Re-Election

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Byline: Howard Fineman, With Tamara Lipper, T. Trent Gegax and Richard Wolffe

Laura Welch Bush is shy. In 26 years of marriage to George W. Bush, she has been balance wheel and panic button in private, never a comfortable public figure in the manner of her mother-in-law. Yet as the campaign heats up and her husband's poll numbers drop, she is moving to center stage--and closer to the role once played by Barbara Pierce Bush. Mrs. Bush II is making the television rounds--"The Tonight Show" this week--and dealing with touchy topics, including the prisoner-abuse scandal. The gruesome photos from Abu Ghraib, she said on "Good Morning America," must be countered by "the real picture" of America--a picture that campaign officials believe she can paint. She's featured in a new Internet ad on education, and there are likely to be more spots to come with her as star. "She is the most effective spokesman for the president," said a White House aide.

Like father, like son--which is what George II has been trying to avoid. He has built his political career on one strategic principle: whatever Dad did, do the opposite. But now the president's fateful decision to do what his father did not do--go to Baghdad--could produce another family parallel: a losing presidential re-election campaign.

Revelations about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq follow weeks of gloomy news from the front. The result may be a political tipping point, at least in the president's standing. In the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, his overall job-approval rating--a key indicator of his chances in November--has fallen to 42 percent, the lowest of his tenure. Only 30 percent of voters say they are satisfied with "the way things are going" in the country. …