The Tricky Trail for Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, March 11, 2004; 10:38 AM

The future site of the Nassau County 9/11 Memorial and the grounds of the swanky Carltun Hotel couldn't be much closer to each other -- they're both inside Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Long Island.

But when President Bush this afternoon makes his way from one to the other, he will be navigating a dicey political landscape, strewn with sensitivity about whether he is exploiting the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as an instrument of his presidential campaign. The trip becomes even more complicated because of this morning's deadly terrorist bombings in Spain.

Add that earlier in the afternoon, Bush will be talking about the economy -- an increasingly sore point, which the latest polls show is his greatest vulnerability -- and you're looking at some prime presidential juggling coming up.

That's not even mentioning how he starts the day -- tending to his conservative base with satellite remarks to the National Association of Evangelicals Convention in Colorado.

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press previews the day: "President Bush isn't backing down. His response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is a centerpiece of his campaign for re-election and he underscores the point Thursday with a visit to a new victims' memorial before headlining a campaign fund-raiser."

Lindlaw reports that at least two groups announced plans to protest his visit to the memorial.

As for the memorial itself: "The $750,000 memorial will feature two semitransparent aluminum towers, representing the World Trade Center, rising 30 feet from a reflecting pool. It will also have a wall with the names of 281 victims who lived in or had ties to Nassau County, N.Y., and two pieces of steel from the trade center's wreckage."

Here's the memorial's Web site.

Steve Holland of Reuters notes: "The White House said Bush's attendance at the event was not in response to the controversy that sprang up last week over television advertisements put out by his re-election campaign that showed a blasted World Trade Center tower building behind an American flag and images of firefighters carrying a flag-draped coffin.

"'This was an invitation that was extended to the president in mid-February,' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. 'The president is honored to accept the invitation and pay tribute to those who tragically lost their lives on that September day.'

"Some Republicans are concerned about the appearance Bush is leaving -- attending a 9/11 event then a fund-raiser -- particularly in light of last week's flap over the ads.

"'It is politically awkward -- and quite surprising,' said one Republican strategist with close ties to the White House."

Before heading to East Meadow, Bush visits another Long Island town, Bay Shore. He'll spend 10 minutes on a tour of USA Industries, where he'll view workers using air guns to disassemble alternators and starters. Then he'll spend 45 minutes there in another one of his "conversations" on the economy. Then 10 minutes on the "rope line" meeting and greeting.

Bruce Lambert writes in the New York Times that "his first stop -- a small but growing company called U.S.A. Industries in Bay Shore -- is aimed at underscoring administration efforts to revive the economy.

"The company, which started in 1985 with just three employees, now has a payroll of about 220. But most of its growth was in the 1980's and 1990's, before Mr. Bush took office. Still, the company added about 20 workers in the last three years. That was better than the national economy did, losing more than two million jobs since Mr. Bush became president, Democratic critics are quick to complain.

Here's the USA Industries Web site.

In East Meadow, Bush will spend an hour at the site of the 9/11 Memorial, first meeting the memorial's board privately, then participating in a groundbreaking ceremony, then spending 20 minutes on the "rope line."

And he'll spend a total of 50 minutes at the Bush/Cheney fundraiser at the Carltun on the Park.

Some Military Families Turn Away

Paula Span writes in The Washington Post that the "war president" isn't necessarily getting support from war families.

"On the night last month he learned that his son had died in Iraq, Richard Dvorin couldn't sleep. He lay in bed, 'thinking and thinking and thinking,' got up at 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a letter to the president. . . .

"'Where are all the weapons of Mass Destruction?' Richard Dvorin demanded in his letter. 'Where are the stockpiles of Chemical and Biological weapons?' His son's life, he wrote, 'has been snuffed out in a meaningless war.' . . .

Span writes that Dvorin has not received a reply to his letter.

And while they may make up a small subsection of the military community, images of aggrieved survivors of the war dead may resonate with the electorate come November.

William Douglas of Knight-Ridder Newspapers is even more sweeping.

"President Bush is seeking re-election as a 'war president' whose decisive leadership steered the military to victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as guerrilla warfare drags on in both countries, casualties mount and the Army is stretched ever thinner, many voters in or affiliated with the military are no longer saluting the commander in chief.

"The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or evidence that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaida, lengthy deployments of active-duty soldiers and reservists and proposed cuts in veterans' benefits and perks to military families are threatening to erode Bush's once-strong support among military voters. . . .

"A bipartisan 'Battleground' poll of likely voters conducted in September found that Bush's approval rating among relatives of military personnel was only 36 percent. Family members upset by Bush's policy on Iraq are venting through Web sites and public protests."

Yesterday in Ohio

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush broadened his attack Wednesday on Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) by excoriating his views on international trade, accusing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of favoring an 'old policy of economic isolationism' that would deprive the United States of jobs and foreign markets for goods. . . .

"The White House classified Bush's three hours in Cleveland, where he delivered a speech at a federally sponsored conference on businesses owned by women, as an official presidential trip, not a campaign appearance. As a result, it was paid for by the public.

"But the appearance demonstrated the increasing intertwining of his presidential duties with his efforts to win a second term. His jabs at Democratic trade policies were similar in tone to his criticism of Kerry's stance on intelligence-gathering that Bush unleashed during a fundraising appearance in Houston on Monday."

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush made an impassioned defense of his economic policies Wednesday, traveling to a state considered crucial to his reelection campaign to confront what polls say is his greatest political vulnerability. . . .

"This was Bush's 15th visit to the state as president -- a disproportionately high number for a state of its size. . . .

"The state's steep job losses are a key reason it is considered one of the toughest battlegrounds of the upcoming election. In 2000, Bush won Ohio by a narrow margin, and campaign workers in both parties have taken to referring to it as 'ground zero' or 'this year's Florida.'"

NBC's David Gregory led off the Nightly News with this report: "Ohio has become ground zero in this campaign for America's vanishing jobs, a political reality that brought him to Cleveland today as he tried to convince voters here that he gets it. . . .

"For the first time today, Mr. Bush conceded that the country's economic recovery has left many workers behind."

Wayne Washington writes in the Boston Globe: "President Bush's political handlers would sleep a lot easier at night if all women were like the ones who crowded into a ballroom at the Cleveland Convention Center yesterday and gave him several standing ovations as he called for reducing government regulation and making his tax cuts permanent. . . .

"But in general, women have been far less receptive to Bush's message."

Here's how it played on WKYC, Channel 3 in Cleveland.

And just as Bush has been asserting that the recession started before his presidency (see Dana Milbank's March 5 story in The Washington Post), he is now suggesting that manufacturing jobs loss predates him as well.

"Not long before I took office in January of 2001, I invited business leaders from around our country to come to Austin. They told me that factories and workers were seeing the first signs of recession. That's what they said. They said that the economy was troubled, that things weren't feeling too good. And they were right. In fact, the manufacturing sector had started losing jobs in August of 2000. By January of 2001, orders for equipment and software were falling, the stock market had been declining for several months."

Here's the full text of his speech.

Is that assertion about the manufacturing sector correct? These tables and charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics do show small job losses in manufacturing starting in July of 2000, but a pretty precipitous decline after January 2001.


It's the last thing Bush needs right now, but Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman in The Washington Post report on another possible economy-related misstep by a traditionally sure-footed White House.

"Six months after promising to create an office to help the nation's struggling manufacturers, President Bush settled on someone to head it, but the nomination was being reconsidered last night after Democrats revealed that his candidate had opened a factory in China. . . .

"Seventy-five minutes after the administration announced a news conference with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans to name the official, an advisory went out saying the event had been 'postponed due to scheduling conflicts.' . . .

"Bush's White House prides itself on orderliness but has been on the defensive on economic issues. Last month, the White House had to disavow its own estimate that 2.6 million jobs would be created this year. The same economic report, issued under Bush's signature, touted the economic efficiencies of sending certain types of U.S. work overseas."

Poll Watch

To add insult to injury, John Harwood writes in this morning's Wall Street Journal: "For a Bush-Cheney re-election campaign battered by employment declines, job one is to change the subject.

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll documents the current toll on the president from the loss of 2.2 million jobs since he took office, as well as recent Democratic attacks on the issue: diminished support for Mr. Bush and his party, declining economic confidence and applause for rival John Kerry's call to roll back tax cuts on the affluent. Twice as many Americans say they plan to base their vote on the economy than on the national-security issues that represent Mr. Bush's greatest strength. . . .

"Rising pessimism has left a polarized electorate sharply divided over how the Republican incumbent is handling his job. Some 50% of Americans approve of Mr. Bush's overall performance, barely exceeding the 46% who disapprove. A 51% majority gives thumbs down to the president's handling of the economy.

"Mr. Bush's personal ratings, long a source of political strength, have declined to the weakest of his presidency, with just 50% expressing positive feelings about him, compared with 41% holding negative views."

Partial results are posted here.

And here's Tim Russert on NBC going over the results with Tom Brokaw.


Jeff Gannon, correspondent for Talon News, does not have an assigned seat in the White House press briefing room, as I initially reported in yesterday's column (it's since been fixed).

Also yesterday, I reversed the very important order of precedence for White House titles (also now fixed.) The correct order is assistant to the president, then deputy assistant to the president, then special assistant to the president.

Haiti Watch

Peter Slevin reports in The Washington Post that the "ongoing bloodshed" and new orders for U.S. Marines in Haiti -- they are to seize guns from Haitians they encounter on patrol and to open fire, if necessary, to prevent further killings -- "illustrate the perils faced by the White House in a military mission that did not exist two weeks ago when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was still trying to persuade Aristide and the democratic opposition to accept a power-sharing arrangement. "

Neil Bush Watch

New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove writes: "Those bickering Bushes -- divorced couple Neil and Sharon -- can't help fighting in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair and further embarrassing Neil's big brothers, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and President Bush." He has tidbits from the story.

© 2004