On Midwest Tour, Unapologetic Campaigning

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 5, 2004; 10:49 AM

It was a two-fisted, unapologetic campaigner who stopped in four midwestern, swing-state cities yesterday.

Local reporters who climbed aboard the Bush/Cheney campaign's luxurious (and Canadian-built) bus yesterday as it rode into Cincinnati found that President Bush was happy to talk about the election, but not ready -- at least not yet -- to apologize for the abuse allegedly committed on Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military guards and interrogators.

The Cincinnati Enquirer published excerpts from the reporters' interview.

"Q. You made very strong statements condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. but do you think it would be appropriate for you to apologize to the Iraqi people on behalf of the American people for that?

"A. Well, I think the best thing I can do is explain as clearly as I can to the American people that it's abhorrent practices, abhorrent; that we will fully investigate, we will find out the facts. There could be criminal charges filed, so, therefore, I don't want to go beyond what I've said up until now.

"But I'm appalled like you're appalled. I mean, every American is appalled who saw that on TV. It doesn't represent what we believe. It does not represent our country. And we've got a lot of work to do in the Arab world to explain that to people, because the people are seeing a different picture."

Eager Campaigner

Jim Bebbington writes in the Dayton Daily News: "Sitting in a leather captain's chair and tossing back a throat lozenge as his Bush/Cheney campaign bus rolled down Interstate 71 toward Cincinnati, President Bush told six Ohio reporters Tuesday he has earned re-election."

Fritz Wenzel of the Toledo Blade writes: "Speaking with six Ohio reporters traveling on his campaign bus in southwestern Ohio, the President appeared comfortable and confident discussing the pressing issues of his re-election campaign, and said he was eager to get out onto the campaign trail to fight for his re-election.

"'I look forward to making the case that the world is better off as a result of my presidency, and will be better off if I have four more years. I look forward to the campaign,' he said. 'When I get on a bus and start moving around your state, it should be an indication that the same guy you saw four years ago who wanted to win then, wants to win now.'"

Rallying the Faithful

Bush made campaign stops in a Toledo suburb, in Dayton, Lebanon and Cincinnati yesterday.

William Hershey writes in the Dayton Daily News: "An upbeat, vote-hungry President Bush campaigned for re-election by bus and plane through Ohio on Tuesday, imploring friendly crowds to give him four more years in the White House."

Gregory Korte writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer: "Bush appealed to the Republican faithful who will put up yard signs, register voters and build an organization in Ohio."

The Dayton Daily News has a photo gallery. The Cincinnati Enquirer has a photo gallery, too.

And Only the Faithful

It's off to Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday -- specifically Dubuque and Prairie du Chien in Iowa and LaCrosse, Wis.

And at all of this week's campaign events, tickets are being handed out pretty much exclusively to certified Bush supporters. Others need not apply. Certainly not anyone who looks like they might make trouble.

Reid Magney writes in the La Crosse Tribune: "A long line of people seeking tickets to see Bush at Copeland Park at 5:25 p.m. Friday stretched out the door of La Crosse County Republican Headquarters along Fourth Street early Tuesday afternoon. At times more than 100 people were queued."

Mary Rae Bragg writes in the Telegraph-Herald of Dubuque about the line on Monday to get tickets for Bush's Friday visit at the Grand River Center there.

"At least one person who said he waited patiently in line came away empty handed.

"Bill Ward, of Dubuque, said he arrived at about 7:30 a.m., and waited an hour. When it came time to show his identification, Ward said he was asked if he supported Bush in 2000.

"'I said I didn't vote for him then and I won't vote for him now,' Ward said.

"Saying he is a World War II veteran who served in Germany and France, Ward is strongly critical of the war in Iraq.

"'The only thing I wanted to do was get down to the riverfront and ask Bush some questions,' he said.

"Ward's lack of support for the president apparently was his undoing.

"'They asked some girl to escort me out and I told them I don't need to be escorted out,' Wards said. 'I'm a veteran of World War II.'

Similarly, the Liquid List blog quotes a non-Bush-supporter who describes being hustled away from the Bush event in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Monday at the behest of a group of Kalamazoo College Republicans.

Sharpening the Attack

Mike Allen and Dan Balz write about the Ohio trip in The Washington Post: "President Bush, campaigning by bus through a crucial slice of the state that could decide the election, sharpened his attack on Sen. John F. Kerry as unreliable on Tuesday and charged that vacillation by a president could undermine the nation's security. . . .

"Bush generally has allowed his campaign's advertising and Vice President Cheney to carry most of the attacks against Kerry, but he took the lead Tuesday."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "In four stops that began at breakfast with a pancake flip in farm country and ended in a rally at an indoor stadium here, Mr. Bush portrayed Mr. Kerry as an elitist detached from both middle America and the realities of a post-Sept. 11 world. And to draw laughs from largely friendly crowds, he picked up where Vice President Dick Cheney left off last week in challenging Mr. Kerry's suggestion in March, in response to a vague question about reaction overseas, that he had received private expressions of support from unnamed leaders."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush's style of in-your-face mockery is not often seen from incumbent presidents, who typically try to retain a 'Rose Garden' image of remaining above the fray and use surrogates to offer the harshest campaign rhetoric."

Carl Weiser and Gregory Korte write in the Cincinnati Enquirer: "Someone Tuesday should have warned Ohioans: Beware of hurled slogans, flying insults, and spinning opinions.

"That's what happens when a presidential campaign comes to town, especially in a pivotal state during a hard-fought election."

Jim Angle of Fox News has the sights and sounds.

The President's Words

Here's the transcript of the pancake breakfast in Toledo suburb of Maumee. Here's the transcript from the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio.

The campaign staged another "Ask President Bush" event in Dayton yesterday, which like Monday's in Michigan, didn't actually feature any questions for the president at all until the very end.

"Let me -- I'm fixing to go to -- fixing to get on the bus. I do want to answer some questions before I get out of here. Here's your chance," Bush said as he was winding down.

As Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times puts it: "The eight questions, three of them from children, included such potential stumpers as what was 'funnest' about being president.

Indeed, from the transcript:

"Q My name is Erica Keene. I'm eight years old. And what's the funnest thing to be -- about being President? (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: The funnest thing is this: making decisions that make the world a better place. (Applause.) I've got to make a lot of decisions -- some of them you'll see, and some of them you don't see -- which means that, in order to make good decisions, you better know what you believe, you better stand on principle.

"Secondly, in order to make good decisions, I've got to listen to smart people. I like to be around smart, intelligent, capable people. I like to walk into a roomful of people like Condi Rice -- (applause) -- Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld or Colin Powell. (Applause.) I like to tell people the Oval Office is the powerful place. People will stand outside the Oval Office, and they say, I can't wait to get in there and tell him what for. And then they open the door, and they walk in this majestic shrine to democracy, and they're overwhelmed by the atmosphere. And they say, man, you're looking beautiful, Mr. President. (Laughter.) Which means, you better have people around you who tell you the truth. (Laughter.)"

And even with so few questions, once again, as in Michigan, one of them was about how Bush's faith has affected him as president.

Sounds like a ringer to me.

Finally, at the rally in Cincinnati, Bush uncorked a possibly unfortunate image. From the transcript:

"I appreciate the grassroots people who are here. Listen, you've got to work hard to turn out the vote, and that's what we call grassroots. I want to thank you. I'm here to fertilize the grassroots today. I'm here to ask you to grow. (Applause.)"

Prisoner Abuse

The White House is tension city today, amid the mounting reports of atrocities perpetrated on Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military guards and interrogators -- and amid growing criticism about what was until recently a lackadaisical response by the administration.

Bush is giving two 10-minute interviews on Arab television this morning.

"This is an opportunity for the president to speak directly to the people in Arab nations and let them know that the images that we all have seen are shameless and unacceptable," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday night.

Condoleezza Rice took a first stab at it yesterday, with this interview with Arab TV.

Robin Wright writes in the Washington Post: "In interviews with the al-Arabiya, al-Jazeera and Lebanese television networks, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice expressed sorrow yesterday about the treatment of Iraqi detainees and regret for the humiliation of them and their families. . . .

"The language from several ranking U.S. officials was striking for its remorse and embarrassment over the photos of U.S. personnel apparently abusing Iraqis at the prison made famous for torture during Saddam Hussein's 24-year rule."

Eric Schmitt and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "Under fire at home and abroad for its handling of the revelations that Iraqi prisoners had been abused, the Bush administration went into high gear on Tuesday to contain the diplomatic and political damage, offering its first apologies and pledging to show the world that the people responsible would be brought to justice. . . .

"Even as the White House emphasized the president's revulsion and his anger about what had happened, it appeared intent on insulating him from political fallout. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, told reporters with Mr. Bush on a campaign trip in Ohio that the president had only become aware of the photographs and the Pentagon's main internal report about the incidents from news reports last week."

Disney Blocks Anti-Bush Movie from Moore

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

"The film, 'Fahrenheit 911,' links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis -- including the family of Osama bin Laden -- and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Middle East Turnaround

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post that the president's people are trying to retreat, delicately, from the president's comments on the Middle East.

"Bush's comments, made with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his side, had alarmed diplomats overseas because some perceived that the United States and Israel had cut their own deal on Sharon's plan to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians. U.S. officials now appear eager to erase that perception, both in private negotiating sessions and in public statements afterward."

Poll Watch

The latest National Annenberg Election Survey finds Bush's favorability rating up slightly from 49 percent in mid-April to 51 percent now. The change is statistically insignificant.

Special Precautions for Cheney

Washington Post In the Loop columnist Al Kamen (final item) describes the special dolled-up hospital room in Tallahasee that was prepared for Vice President Cheney, in case anything happened to him while he was in town for a commencement address.

"Unclear whether the special room was done at local option or is done regularly for Cheney, who has had a bit of heart trouble in the past. Cheney's office didn't return a call."

Today's Calendar

After his Arab TV interviews, Bush meets with the prime minister of Singapore. He makes remarks on Cinco de Mayo from the East Room in the afternoon, then attends the Republican National Committee Gala at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the evening.

Late Night Humor

From the "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn," via the Associated Press:

"At the President's stop in Ohio, 5,000 people gathered to cheer his record on jobs. Then they all flew back to India."

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