Bush hops back on campaign trail

Travel: After a week at his ranch, president plans quick swing through four battleground states.

Election 2004

The Democratic Convention

July 30, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BOSTON - Even before Americans have time this morning to digest and discuss John Kerry's acceptance speech, President Bush will board a plane and set off on a rapid-fire campaign swing through four battleground states, refusing to let his freshly minted Democratic rival monopolize the airwaves any longer.

Bush's return to the campaign trail could not have come soon enough for the Republican faithful, especially those in Boston who have been drowning in news about the Democratic ticket. A few hundred of them rallied outside a local hotel yesterday, itching for Bush to get back in the game. Some sounded forlorn.

"I've missed him," said 28-year-old Owen MacIsaac.

Others said they were just sick of Kerry headlines.

"The Democratic national circus is finally leaving town," said Brian McCarthy, 44, who works for a technology firm. "Get them out."

Bush has been out of sight this week at his Texas ranch, reviewing the recent report from the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, taping new campaign ads, clearing brush, and riding - and once crashing - on his mountain bike. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney, crisscrossing the nation speaking to the GOP faithful, has led a stampede of Bush surrogates who have tried to keep the president in the campaign story line.

The Republicans have mostly focused on the issue of steadiness, portraying Bush as decisive in the war on terrorism - even when his actions have not been popular - and Kerry as someone who shifts positions with the political winds.

Republican Sen. Jon Cornyn of Texas, dispatched to Boston to join his party's Democratic convention-bashing effort, lobbed a charge yesterday at Kerry and his vice presidential running mate, John Edwards, saying the two senators missed votes and classified intelligence briefings. Cornyn suggested those absences might have been part of the reason that the 9/11 commission cited Congress for lax oversight of intelligence agencies.

"Was it because they didn't show up?" Cornyn said. "The American people have a right to know."

Polls continue to show that national security and the war on terrorism are Bush's strong suits. A majority of voters trust him over Kerry on those issues, even if they disapprove of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and favor Kerry over Bush to handle an array of domestic concerns.

Bush remains in a dangerous place for an incumbent president, with approval ratings hovering below 50 percent just four months before voters go to the polls. Bush aides acknowledge that Kerry is likely to get a bounce in the polls from the convention and could sprint 10 to 12 points ahead of the president, at least for the next week or two.

Charles Black, a veteran Republican strategist who speaks often with White House aides, said the president will try to regain momentum in coming weeks by resuming his pounding on the theme of national security and portraying himself as a steadier foreign-policy president than Kerry would be, while sounding fresh themes on domestic issues.

The president, Black added, will talk about elements of his agenda for a second term, such as making America an "ownership society" in which people control their own wallets, are not forced to pay high taxes, and are given choices, for example, about whether they wish to invest some of their Social Security withholdings.

Black said Bush will spend the next few weeks releasing portions of his second-term agenda piecemeal before he "pulls it all together" at the GOP convention in New York.

"I am happy he is getting back out there," Black said of the Bush campaign swing that begins today.

After returning to Washington last night, Bush was set to fly this morning to Springfield, Mo., for a rally before jetting to Grand Rapids, Mich., for another one. He will then make two evening appearances in Cleveland. Tomorrow, he will visit the Ohio cities of Canton and Cambridge before finishing his day in Pittsburgh.

In 2000, Bush won Missouri and Ohio by just 4 percentage points while Democrat Al Gore beat Bush by that same margin in Michigan and Pennsylvania. All four states are in the toss-up column again.

Yesterday, Republicans began an effort that served them well in Bush's first run for the presidency, playing down expectations on how he'll perform in the nationally televised debates. If they can keep that drumbeat going, they hope that some Americans will view even a mediocre performance by Bush as a success.

"It is an uphill fight against Kerry in a televised debate," said former Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld, who lost to Kerry in a bruising 1996 Senate race and was among those sent out by the party to speak to reporters in Boston yesterday. "He's been focusing on debating ever since he was an undergraduate at Yale. He's got the speed of a welterweight; he'll move all around."

The Republicans also sent former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani before the cameras yesterday. Giuliani, whose stature and popularity soared while he helped his city recover from the attack on the World Trade Center, took a swipe at filmmaker Michael Moore, who produced the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and who has been a frequent presence at and around the convention.

Asked about the film, he said: "I don't really need Michael Moore to tell me about Sept. 11."

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