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President Bush's approval rating in Utah has dipped below 50 percent for the first time in a Salt Lake Tribune poll - a sign that the commander in chief's reputation has taken a beating even in his strongholds.

While Bush's approval ratings have hovered in the low 20s in some parts of the country, the Republican leader could always count on Utahns to provide his loudest cheering sections.

Not anymore.

His approval rating in Utah sank to 44 percent in The Tribune poll. Some 55 percent of those surveyed described Bush's performance as fair or poor.

No previous Tribune poll has given Bush less than a majority.

Utah voters gave Bush his biggest margins of victory in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

The economic troubles, paired with the groundswell of support for incoming President Barack Obama, could account for the drop, says Kirk Jowers, head of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"Part of this lower approval rating is the natural evolution of our presidents," Jowers says. "We elect them, we love them, as we do with Obama right now. Then they go through highs and lows, but typically [at the end of the cycle] we haven't liked our presidents much. We're tired of them and ready for the next new thing."

Bush has also been tarred with an unpopular war in Iraq, a slew of scandals and, in a move that angered conservatives, a multi-hundred billion-dollar rescue of Wall Street and auto manufacturers.

Ogden resident Richelle Garner is one Utahn who rated Bush as doing a poor job as president. The 18-year-old, who says she usually sides with the Republican way of thinking, blames Bush for the faltering economy. Garner says it took her two months to find a job and she ended up making cinnamon buns at a mall to make ends meet.

"The economy has gone to crap," Garner says. "With Obama, it's going to take quite a while to get our economy back to the way it was."

But Michelle Federkeil, of Kanab, says Bush is taking the heat for bad times and problems that aren't his fault.

"He's doing about as good of a job as he can with what he's got," says Federkeil, who just started a photography business in the southern Utah town. "He's doing pretty well with what he's working with."

Hillary Sorensen, an Americorps volunteer from West Jordan, said she rated the president's performance as poor because she thinks he ignored reality during the last years of his presidency.

"I just think it seems like he wasn't listening to or caring about what was really going on, but just stuck with his people or his administration, surrounding himself with those people but not being aware of what was going on," Sorensen said.

The Tribune poll, conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, surveyed 500 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Bush fared better with Republicans in the state, garnering a 63 percent approval rating, while Democrats panned his job performance with 78 percent rating it as poor.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who beat out a 12-year incumbent last year to win his seat, said the numbers don't surprise him too much, even given Utah's solid Republican bent.

"There's a great deal of respect for the president in Utah," Chaffetz said. "I'm evidence, though, that the electorate is restless."

Bush's reputation in Utah may be drooping because he has "abandoned some principles" with such moves as the billion-dollar bailouts, Chaffetz added.

Jowers, a Republican who was leaving Washington on Wednesday after business meetings, said that while presidents' approval ratings often flop at the end of their terms, Americans usually view past presidents more favorably.

"I'm confident that 20 years from now, Bush will have a well-above 50 percent favorable rating," Jowers said. "But Utah, like the rest of the nation, is ready for a change. We have moved on from Bush at this point."