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Bushes Bring Campaign Blitz Home

Tuesday, 05 November 2002 12:00 AM

The president's 23-state blitz since the end of September -- including 17 states in the past five days -- ended here at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University, alma mater of Laura Bush, who was celebrating her 56th birthday.

In state after state -- from South Dakota to Florida -- Bush increasingly made it clear in his stump speech that the stakes for him in the midterm contests were crucial.

"See, that's what I'm looking for, some allies, somebody who we can count on to do the right thing for America," the president said earlier Monday in Missouri while bannering congressman and Senate hopeful Jim Talent and other GOP candidates.

"Somebody whose vote we can count on to do the right thing to make sure this country is strong and safe and a better place."

The line preceded a recital by Bush of programs and proposals hung up in the Democrat-controlled Senate: legislation for prescription drugs for seniors, creation of a Department of Homeland Security, reform of the nation's educational system, making earlier tax cuts permanent, passage of anti-terrorism insurance that would breath new life into the commercial construction industry.

The list went on and on in his folksy, conversational delivery, with little variation other than the issue's placement in the speech.

Talent, a former businessman, "understands the importance of entrepreneurship in our society," Bush said.

"And we need that kind of understanding in Washington because we got some problems with our economy. It's not as strong as it should be. I like to say it's just bumping along.

"There are too many people looking for a job who can't find work," he said. "I need allies in the United States Senate who understand growth and job creation."

The economy, once in the rumble-seat position in Bush's speeches, gained more emphasis in recent days as the president indicated that he was not oblivious to people's economic worries and that he was trying to deal with the issues involved, issues which usually favor Democrats in getting out the vote.

The crisis with Iraq and the war on terrorism, however, were never absent. They remained in his speeches as constant reminder of the challenges the nation faces, the resolve of the American people, and his position and accomplishments as commander in chief, which have garnered him high public-opinion ratings.

Inevitably, talk of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the hunt for al Qaida and the challenge of Iraq sparked chants of "USA, USA, USA" at every stop on the campaign trail.

Visible opposition to military action was sparse. In St. Paul, Minn., about 150 protesters stood across from Excel Arena where Bush spoke, chanting their anti-war message and holding aloft hand-printed signs as police on horseback kept them from entering the venue.

In Springfield, Ill., about 60 demonstrators crowded a street corner a few feet away from the armory where Bush spoke, kept away by a line of police cruisers. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a couple dozen protesters had to content themselves with marching back and forth a full block away from the president.

A few demonstrators also braved the chilling rain at Southern Methodist University.

In Dallas, Bush trumpted the candidacy of state Attorney General John Cornyn, who is running for the U.S. Senate. The latest opinion poll for The Dallas Morning News put Cornyn ahead of Democrat Ron Kirk 50 percent to 41 percent. The poll of 1,002 likely voters on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 had a 3 percent margin of error.

Rick Perry, the man who succeeded Bush as Texas governor when Bush went to the White House, was leading Democrat Tony Sanchez 50 percent to 38 percent in the gubernatorial race, according to another Dallas Morning News poll with the same error margin and the same number of people questioned.

For Bush, the brass ring in Election 2002 would be regaining control of the Senate, which spells the likelihood of his legislative agenda making progress in the next two years. Currently Republicans and Democrats each hold 49 seats with two independents, one generally voting with Democrats.

Historically, the president's party in first-term, midterm elections suffers losses in both houses of Congress, but Bush is hoping to make history by defying the trend.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll this past weekend indicated that at least one part of the objective may be attainable. The poll of 1,221 people, with a margin of error of 4 percent, showed a 9-point shift from last month, giving Republicans a 6-point advantage over Democrats in House races.

"The president is hopeful that Republicans will have a big day tomorrow (Tuesday)," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said aboard Air Force One. "He is hopeful that they will, one, be able to break the historical trend which so clearly runs against incumbent presidents in their first-term, midterms.

"All signs give a lot of reason to be optimistic that the trend can be broken," he said.

The key races, virtually all neck-and-neck, are in South Dakota, Missouri, Minnesota, New Hampshire -- all stops on the president's final blitz, and Colorado, which the president had visited earlier.

Arkansas, Bush's last stop before Dallas, was the sore point. Incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson is trailing Democrat Mark Pryor by some 10 points.

Hutchinson, who voted for President Bill Clinton's removal from office amid the Monica Lewinsky perjury scandal, has reaped opprobrium from the state's conservative voters over his subsequent divorce and remarriage to a Senate staffer.

In the run-up to Tuesday's voting, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, also made a number of appearances on behalf of GOP contestants. On Friday, what Bush terms his "secret weapons," joined the fray.

On her own, Laura Bush attended a rally in North Carolina for Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole, and then appeared elsewhere before joining her husband in South Dakota, where an enthusiastic crowd at the Sioux Falls Arena and Convention Center broke out in a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday."

That refrain, marking the first lady's 56th birthday Monday, was repeated at stops throughout the day as she traveled with the president.

By coincidence, Nov. 5, Election Day, is the Bushes' 25th wedding anniversary.

The president and first lady will vote early in the morning at the Crawford Firehouse before returning to Washington to await results.

Senior administration officials would also be in the White House, manning "our own little command center to track results," Fleischer said.

The pep rallies over, the Election 2002 battle now is totally in the hands of the activists of both parties, who have organized major get-out-the-vote drives to get people to the polls, topping off the barrage of media ads and telephone calls to prospective voters.

-- Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved. --

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The president's 23-state blitz since the end of September -- including 17 states in the past five days -- ended here at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University, alma mater of Laura Bush, who was celebrating her 56th birthday. In state after state --...
Tuesday, 05 November 2002 12:00 AM
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