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Billionaire fronts $75m push to oust Bush

GEORGE Soros, the billionaire financier, is helping to raise a $75m war chest designed to defeat President Bush in next year's presidential election.

Mr Soros has put $10m of his own fortune behind a newly-formed group of liberals, environmentalists and unions aimed at helping the Democrat candidate in 2004 to offset Mr Bush's huge advantage in election spending.

The group, called Americans Coming Together (ACT), will concentrate its spending on a huge effort to get people to vote in 17 swing states. ACT already has commitments worth $30m, including $12m from six philanthropists and $8m from unions.

Mr Soros, who is best known on this side of the Atlantic for making millions betting against the pound on Black Wednesday, and who has recently ploughed money into pro-democracy and reconstruction projects in eastern Europe, said Mr Bush was threatening the values of an open society.

"The fate of the world depends on the United States, and President Bush is leading us in the wrong direction," he said.

Even with Mr Soros's money, Democrats face a daunting task opposing Mr Bush's campaign juggernaut. The President is aiming to raise a record-breaking $200m to fund his re-election drive, and is already on track to meet his target.

However, despite divisions over tactics and personalities, Democrats have received a boost in the latest opinion polls, which showed support for the President has fallen to the levels of before September 11. Mr Bush's job approval rating has dipped to 53pc as women in particular withdraw their support.

The trend is fuelled in part by a significant switch in public attitudes, with 57pc saying the economy is the most pressing presidential priority and only 27pcnaming the war on terrorism. Mr Bush would still defeat a generic Democrat candidate by 43pc to 38pc, but his negative rating, with 37pc disapproving of the job he is doing, is the highest he has recorded since taking office.

Despite Mr Bush's campaigning skills and signs of an upturn in the US economy, Democrats think they are detecting new vulnerabilities - so much so that Al Gore, who ruled himself out of next year's contest last December, is once again sniffing around the Democrat primary race.

He emerged from the shadows of his self-imposed exile this week and used a high-profile speech in New York to rail against the Bush administration on all fronts. Mr Gore said he would not be running, but the event bore all the hallmarks of an exercise to test the waters for a possible U-turn.

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Much has changed since Mr Gore ruled himself out that may persuade him to change his mind, including the insurgent campaign of Howard Dean to snatch the Democrat nomination and the failure of any other candidate to make a mark.

Mr Dean's uncompromising populism has alarmed centrist Democrats, who are fearful that running a candidate from the left of the party will end in electoral disaster for the party. (©The Times, London)

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