April 27, 2005 08:00 AM

On TV, ratings count for everything, and when First Lady Laura Bush appeared with Jay Leno on NBC’s Tonight Show Tuesday night, her popularity rating was a chief topic of conversation.

While her approval numbers hovered around 80 percent in February, according to the most recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, her husband’s overall approval rating is at 47 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday.

Asking a softball question about this fact, Jay inquired if Mrs. Bush ever taunted husband George W. Bush because her ratings are higher.

“No, but I might,” she responded amiably.

And, despite her popularity, she said seeking higher office herself is of no interest to her. She did acknowledge, however, that Leno’s guest chair “is the seat that people announce for governor of California.”

She was referring to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s declaration on the show in 2003 that he planned to run for governor – a race that he won.

And since no late-night TV appearance is complete unless the guest is teased, Leno asked the first lady about recent news footage showing her husband and a Saudi diplomat holding hands.

Did that make her jealous, Leno wondered. “It was actually very sweet,” she said.

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