Bush goes on the attack

Campaigning in South, president assails Democrats on Iraq, gay marriage

October 31, 2006|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,Los Angeles Times

SUGAR LAND, Texas -- Using the backdrop of the war in Iraq to launch some of his toughest campaign attacks this political season, President Bush accused Democrats yesterday of being more concerned with pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq than with winning the war.

On a day whose itinerary illustrated the challenges the Republicans face a week from today as they try to retain their House and Senate majorities, Bush went to the heart of the issues that have helped him and his party come out on top in the 2002 and 2004 elections: terrorism, taxes and a conservative social agenda.

Noting their opposition on key anti-terrorism measures, Bush said that when it came to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists, detaining or trying them, the Democrats "just say no."

"So when the Democrats ask for your vote, what's your answer?" he asked the audience of 5,000 attending the Georgia 2006 Victory Rally at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

"Just say no!" the crowd roared.

The office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, responded tersely: "Contrary to the president's intentions, Americans are just saying no to his administration's no-plan, no-end approach to Iraq."

From Georgia, Bush flew to Houston for a rally in the suburb of Sugar Land, delivering another round of rough-edged attacks aimed at his primary mission this week: getting the core Republican voters headed to the polls.

To reach that constituency, Bush also took to the airwaves, as did Vice President Dick Cheney, with each giving an interview to programs on the Fox News Channel. The vice president, speaking on Your World with Neil Cavuto, said insurgents in Iraq had timed the increase in violence there - October has been the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. troops, with more than 100 killed as of yesterday - to the U.S. political calendar.

"I think they are very, very cognizant of our schedule. It's my belief that they're very sensitive to the fact that we've got an election scheduled," he said.

In a two-part interview that began last night on Hannity and Colmes, Bush said that some Democratic Party leaders "are becoming isolationists, and that's dangerous."

"Protecting this country and keeping this economy growing are the two most important issues," he said. "And you can't protect the country if you retreat from overseas, and you can't keep the economy growing if you raise taxes. And that's exactly what the Democrats in the House would like to do."

At the Georgia rally, Bush drew sharp partisan distinctions as he belittled the opposition to the war, which is proving a powerful pro-Democrat issue. "The Democrat approach on Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses," he said.

"The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq," he said, his sleeves rolled up as members of the crowd used campaign signs as fans. "You cannot win a war unless you are willing to fight the war."

On the economy, the president chose his figures selectively, linking the growth of jobs in recent years - 6.6 percent since August 2003 - and a 2.2 percent increase in average wages over the past year to the tax cuts championed by his administration. Adopting one of his signature campaign lines for the current week, he said: "If you want to keep that money in your pocket instead of sending it to Washington, D.C., you vote for Republicans on Election Day."

And he returned again to an issue on the minds of evangelicals and other social conservatives, attacking last week's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that he said "raises doubt about the institution of marriage" to bolster his case for Republican candidates who would oppose judges who "legislate from the bench."

The president's opposition to same-sex marriage brought the audience to its feet. He could not have asked for a better response in motivating the party faithful to get to the polls.

"You can bet one thing - we're going to sprint to the finish line," Bush said, presaging a full-bore week of campaigning not only by him, but also by Cheney, who is going to Montana tomorrow, and first lady Laura Bush, who was in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire yesterday and is working her way across the country, ending up Thursday evening at a California 2006 Victory Rally in Rocklin.

"When our voters show up at the polls," the president predicted, "we will keep control of the House and Senate."

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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