Bush Sharpens Pitch in 'Knife-Edge' State

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 15, 2004; 11:39 AM

Add some more terms to your Bush campaign lexicon today: Exurbs and knife-edge states.

Sure you know what a suburb is, and you've heard of battleground states before.

But where suburbs ring cities, the exurbs ring the suburbs. Exurbs are recently rural communities newly paved-over with housing developments and mini malls and roads -- and they are teeming with Bush's base.

Battleground states are the 15 to 18 states considered the most in play in 2004. (See, for instance, this Washington Post graphic.)

But the knife-edge states are, from what I can tell, a supercontested subset -- a subset that includes Wisconsin.

Which is where President Bush was campaigning yesterday. In the exurbs.

The Associated Press's Scott Lindlaw got none other than Karl Rove to explain the strategy to him.

"Members of the Bush team say the rapidly growing suburbs and far-flung 'exurbs' ringing cities such as Milwaukee and Green Bay, with their white, affluent, church-going populations, can counter the heavy Democratic turnout in urban areas and tip the balance in his favor.

" 'If you're somebody who moved into Fond du Lac or West Bend in the last year or two, you're just not revved into local politics like you will be after a visit like this,' Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, told The Associated Press.

"With surgical precision, Bush's bus tour stopped in eastern Wisconsin counties that Bush carried in 2000 and must win again by greater margins if he is to reverse his narrow loss of less than 6,000 votes in the state.

" 'This is going to be one of the knife-edge states,' Rove said."

On Wisconsin

Dana Milbank and Mike Allen explain in The Washington Post how Bush's appearance yesterday at a pep rally in Waukesha is an example of how much energy his campaign is putting into pumping up his base.

"Although age-old campaign rules dictate that the general-election candidate must emphasize moderate 'swing' voters and political independents, Bush strategists are predicting that this election, more than previous ones, will be determined by the turnout of each side's partisans. Although not discounting swing voters, Bush is placing unusual emphasis so far on rallying the faithful."

In Waukesha: "Rosemary Metzdorff, after cheering her way through a speech full of references to abortion restrictions, tax cuts, caps on jury awards and other conservative favorites, could not decide which part she liked best. 'Every part -- I'm such a Bush fan,' she replied, adding that the president probably did not change many minds here. 'They were all for him, anyway.' "

Bush attended two rallies, one in the morning in Waukesha and one at night in Ashwaubenon. In between, he held an "Ask the President" event in Fond du Lac.

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "'Ask the president' events are nothing like the high-pressure, sometime contentious news conferences that Bush occasionally conducts at the White House. By contrast, Bush's aides try to ensure he will stand before a friendly audience at campaign events. . . .

"As the sometimes jocular give-and-take showed here Wednesday, the 'ask the president' format gives Bush an opportunity to respond to questions usually framed in a positive manner. . . .

"One woman asked: 'What can all of us here do to help you and [Vice President] Dick Cheney be sure to be reelected?' "

Here's the text from Fond du Lac.

And here's the text from the Waukesha rally, and the text from the Ashwaubenon rally.

William Douglas notes in the Knight Ridder Newspapers that Bush's blue-blooded upbringing doesn't stop him from casting himself as a populist -- and his opponent as an elitist.

Dump Cheney Watch -- Big Time

The New York Times puts the Cheney rumors on the front page -- and therefore, the front burner -- this morning.

Elisabeth Bumiller writes: "In the annals of Washington conspiracy theories, the latest one, about Vice President Dick Cheney's future on the Republican ticket, is as ingenious as it is far-fetched. But that has not stopped it from racing through Republican and Democratic circles like the latest low-carb diet.

"The newest theory -- advanced privately by prominent Democrats, including members of Congress -- holds that Mr. Cheney recently dismissed his personal doctor so that he could see a new one, who will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush. . . .

" 'I don't know where they get all these conspiracy theories,' said Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, who has heard them all. 'It's inside-the-Beltway coffee talk, is all it is.' "

But figuring out who would replace Cheney is now "a favorite Washington guessing game," Bumiller writes.

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday he cannot envision any circumstance in which he would not run for a second term, saying President Bush has been 'very clear he doesn't want to break up the team.' . . .

"Asked if he could envision any circumstances in which he would step aside, Cheney told C-SPAN: 'Well, no, I can't. If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would. But he's made it very clear that he wants me to run again. The way I got here in the first place was that he persuaded me four years ago that I was the man he wanted in that post, not just as a candidate, but as somebody to be part of the governing team. He's been very clear he doesn't want to break up the team.' "

Joshua Chaffin's story in the Financial Times is headlined: "Why the Bush ticket still needs to stay with Mr Grumpy."

White House Briefing, of course, has been knocking the tires on the Cheney rumors for ages. See, for instance, my July 7 column.

Twins Watch

Richard Leiby, Reliable Source columnist for The Washington Post, writes that "as the glamorous sistren venture out on the campaign trail, the question of their role looms. Are they going to be hand shakers? Smilers onstage who'll stay in the background? Or will they speak to the public as surrogates of their father?"

In today's New York Post, Carl Campanile confirms yesterday's speculation in the New York Daily News: Jenna will be a teaching assistant at a charter school in Harlem.

Julia Reed, who interviewed the twins for the Vogue article, was on Paula Zahn's show on CNN last night.

"Sooner or later they're going to open their mouths. They will. Their mom says that they've written introductions to their father's speeches and stuff. And they're a little -- I think they're a little nervous about getting right out there. . . .

"[O]ne of the surprises is I expected them to be a little bit more self-conscious, but they actually have all the best qualities of their parents.

"I mean, Jenna more so, but Barbara, too, is very much like her father in that, you know, she's sort of very sort of warm one-on-one, very jokey. I mean, Jenna especially is like a tease. She's like her dad, you know, is going to give you a nickname. She's going to, you know, sort of -- she's teasing her sister the entire time."

Bill Plante reports for CBS News: "In their early days of the White House, they tried to stay far out of sight. . . . But that was then."

The twins were a big topic in my Live Online discussion yesterday.

Up until recently, they were in a sort of journalistic limbo: adult children of the "First Family" who had, nevertheless, never intentionally put themselves in the public eye. Now, they've made a choice to work publicly for their father's campaign.

What was most surprising to me about the Live Online was the number of readers who felt that the twins should be asked about -- and held accountable for -- their decision not to enlist in the armed forces to fight in their father's war.

I got a lot of e-mail on the topic of the twins, in part thanks to being the banner headline on the Drudge Report for a couple of hours yesterday. (That is not the place to be if you're thin skinned.)

Some of the e-mails were terrific. A few e-mailers raised this question, for instance: If the twins joined the Army, would their Secret Service agents have to tag along?

Impromptu Stop Watch

Bush made two pit-stops during his Wisconsin trip yesterday to do some carbo-loading -- in anticipation of another weekend of bike-riding workouts.

First stop was Mick's Candyman Store, where pool reporter George Condon of Copley News Service described the scene to his colleagues.

The president bounded into the store, still wearing his tie, and joined by his daughter Barbara. Already in the store was Karl Rove. "I'm looking for a few calories," proclaimed the president.

Bush then ordered four caramel bearclaws, which are made of pecans, caramel and milk chocolate. The bill came to $5.28.

"We could not see if he had a wallet, but he forked over $6 and got 72 cents in change. He joked that he had just bought about 400 calories," Condon wrote.

"As he turned to go, he ordered the pool to 'buy something here.'

"Singling out the intrepid pooler from AP, he said, 'You're overpaid,' and instructed him that the way the economy works is he must spend some of that money. When a pooler voiced the fear that stopping to buy would force one to miss the motorcade, the president shouted, 'Leave no reporter behind.' "

Here is the transcript.

Then, about mid-way on the mid-afternoon leg, pooler Bob Hillman of the Dallas Morning News reported that Bush ducked off the main drag in Oshkosh for a custard cone at Leon's, a corner drive-in.

"He 'highly recommended' the vanilla custard, particularly to your pooler. He offered a bite. But your pooler declined, noting the custard was melting and the president might consider a napkin."

Here's that transcript.

It all made for nice pictures.

But CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash put the "impromptu" label in perspective, in a report for Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics show: "As is tradition, the president made some of what his campaign calls unscheduled stops, but where Bush supporters were ready and waiting with signs and flags."

How It Played in Wisconsin

Alan J. Borsuk writes in the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel that Wisconsin residents were treated to "more than 10 hours of high-profile, almost non-stop campaigning by the incumbent Republican president.

"As important as anything Bush said on specific issues was his message, both direct and indirect, throughout the day: He wants and needs votes in Wisconsin."

Wisinfo.com, the Web site of Gannett's Wisconsin newspapers, has a deep, inviting and delightfully quirky package on the president's visit.

Inside the Bush events, people were exuberant. Ese Isiorho of the Fond du Lac Reporter spoke to some of the people who waited in long lines to get in to the event there.

"I thought it was fantastic," John Crosslen of Saxeville said. "He talked about everything. Anything people had questions about, he answered them all truthfully. It was tremendous."

Outside, it was more of a mixed bag. Peggy Breister writes in the Fond du Lac Reporter about one protester who gave Bush the finger.

"A happy, smiling, waving George W. Bush stopped waving Wednesday afternoon when Liz Brenner flashed him a sign as his motorcade sped down Western Avenue approaching Main Street," Breister writes.

Brenner stood with a friend, who held a sign that read, "Send your daughters to Iraq."

After Bush's bus passed, Brenner told the newspaper: "My friend said, 'You know, I don't think he saw my sign,' . . . But I know he saw mine. He was waving and smiling and then he saw me and he didn't know what to do."

The Fond du Lac paper asked readers what questions they would ask Bush. Among them:

• "What are you going to do for the working poor? A lot of us have to chose between paying our bills or getting food," said Cynthia Kutz of West Bend.

• "I would like to know what kind of new policies or strategies is he formulating to get support from Islamic nations," said Sud Ingle of Fond du Lac.

Kelley Bruss writes in the Green Bay Gazette about the Ashwaubenon rally: "Optimism, achievement and possibility were the underpinnings of President Bush's message to thousands Wednesday at the Resch Center."

Over on the Freeman Newspapers' Greater Milwaukee Today Web site, Dennis A. Shook writes: "People in Waukesha and America are safer because of the combat effort in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

"President Bush brought that message to the Waukesha County Expo Center this morning before a crowd estimated at nearly 3,000."

James Kogutkie writes: "Anti-President Bush protesters had a favorite joke this morning when responding to Republicans who tried shouting them down. More than once, GOP supporters used an obscenity when responding to the small groups of Democratic protesters.

"Waukesha Alderman Larry Nelson used the joke when one passerby shouted a strong obscenity.

"'We respect your view but you don't have to use the language the vice president does,' Nelson said."

Sara Pellowski writes about the excitement surrounding Bush's visit to downtown West Bend.

" 'It's a face you see on TV all the time, but when you get to see him in person, it's different,' said Megan Grosz, an employee at Ruth-Anne's Gourmet Market.

" 'He waved at me. . . . It was a very positive feeling and it felt personal.' "

And then there's the story about the lady who got pulled over after she waved at Bush's motorcade while holding a cell phone in her hand.

Here's how it played on the six o'clock news on WTMJ Channel 4 in Milwaukee -- which notes that Mick's had quite the run on bearclaws after Bush's visit.

Scary Moment

Pooler Hillman also reported that as the Bush was headed to the Ashwaubenon rally, "the buscapade passed several hundred, very vocal Kerry supporters and others protesting the president's visit.

"Someone in the roadside crowd threw an empty plastic bottle at the president's bus, bouncing it off the right (passenger's) side.

"The president had been down front, waving from the window a few blocks earlier, but had retreated to the back of the bus before the bottle headed his way."

Gay Marriage Watch

Helen Dewar writes in The Washington Post: "The Republican-controlled Senate yesterday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, effectively killing the White House-backed measure for the rest of this year and handing President Bush a big election-year defeat."

Bush released a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the Senate vote.

Richard W. Stevenson writes in a New York Times news analysis that "the way in which the proposal went down with a whimper -- short of a simple majority, much less the two-thirds of the Senate needed for approval -- raised questions about whether the White House had fundamentally misjudged the nation's attitude on the issue. And the vote left even some of Mr. Bush's own advisers wondering if his backing of the amendment did not hurt him politically more than it helped by further stoking opposition to him from the left."

WMD Commission Watch

The presidentially appointed "WMD" commission, which is investigating flawed prewar intelligence -- but isn't reporting its findings until after the election, so nobody really seems to care -- swapped out one of its members yesterday.

The Associated Press reports that Bush appointed longtime Pentagon official Walter Slocombe.

"Slocombe, who was senior security adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and now is back in private law practice in Washington, will replace Lloyd Cutler, who stepped down for personal reasons."

Here's the official personnel announcement.

The substitution appears to maintain the commission's 5-4 Republican-Democrat split. Slocombe was undersecretary of defense for policy in the Clinton administration; Cutler is a prominent Democrat.

But this means I need to go update my WMD commission page.

Scientists Watch

Antonio Regalado writes in the Wall Street Journal: "In a big shift for the normally docile scientific community, some leading researchers are mounting a political campaign to unseat President Bush this fall, accusing the administration of twisting scientific facts to fit its policies on issues such as global warming, sex education and stem-cell research."

Today's Calendar

The Associated Press reports that Bush today will sign a bill imposing mandatory prison time for the use of fake IDs in terrorist-related crimes. The signing ceremony will be in the Roosevelt Room.

Bush also meets today with the president of Mongolia.

The first lady will be at the St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville.

NAACP, No; But Urban League, Yes

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush accepted Wednesday an invitation to speak at the National Urban League convention in Detroit, nearly a week after he spurned a similar offer to address the NAACP convention in Philadelphia.

"White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Bush will speak at the black organization's meeting on July 23 because it has demonstrated a desire for constructive dialogue."

National Guard Watch

James C. Moore, co-author of "Bush's Brain," writes in Salon that there are still documents out there that could clear up the mysteries regarding Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard.

"Until a journalist discovers a critical missing document that answers the remaining questions about Bush's service, learning the truth will be a game of sleuthing, trying to figure out which papers, if any, are missing and what they might mean."

Valerie Plame Watch

Columnist Robert Novak finally writes today about the Valerie Plame affair -- but doesn't identify his White House source.

Instead, he describes his vindication by the Senate intelligence committee.

"Because a U.S. Justice Department special prosecutor is investigating whether any crime was committed when my column first identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee, on advice of counsel I have not written on the subject since last October. However, I feel constrained to describe how the Intelligence Committee report treats the Niger-Wilson affair because it has received scant coverage except in The Washington Post, Knight-Ridder newspapers, briefly and belatedly in The New York Times and few other media outlets.

"The unanimously approved report said, 'interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD (CIA counterproliferation division) employee, suggested his name for the trip.' That's what I reported, and what Wilson flatly denied and still does."

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