Hitting the Accelerator

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, February 23, 2004; 10:57 AM

As Mike Allen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post this morning: "The White House had hoped to keep Bush above the political fray as long as possible, but officials conceded they can no longer afford that."

So tonight, Bush "will preview his campaign themes during a speech to a $1,000-a-person fundraising reception of the Republican Governors Association."

"It will be unmistakable," a top adviser tells John F. Dickerson of Time Magazine. "We're hitting the accelerator."

Writes Dickerson: "Though the President doesn't plan to mention his competition by name, aides say, he will start drawing clear distinctions between what his advisers call 'two visions of government.' His message: If you want to keep taxes down and win the war on terror, pick me; if not, pick a Democrat."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder Newspapers puts it this way: "After insisting for weeks that he was paying little attention to his re-election, Bush intends to drop any pretense that he is staying above partisan politics."

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press describes the new stump speech: "The president talks about how he wants to keep enemies on the run and extend the frontiers of democracy, a Bush campaign spokesman said. He bolsters his own record, saying that his administration has taken on big issues and is ready to lead the nation for another four years."

CNN has some insight into the massive Bush ad barrage that will begin on March 4, just two days after the Super Tuesday Democratic primary. "The first television ads, shot in the White House residence and on the grounds the week of February 9, will have what aides call a 'positive tone,' talking about the president's record, with the tagline: 'steady leadership in times of change.' "

Poll Watch

Why the sudden acceleration? Maybe because Bush is hemorrhaging in the polls.

Here's pollingreport.com's roundup of the dramatically slumping job approval ratings.

A new Fox News poll shows that "Forty-eight percent say they approve and 41 percent say they disapprove of Bush's job performance. This is a 10-percentage point drop in the president's rating since the beginning of the year."

Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times introduces us to disaffected Bush voters: "In the interviews, many of those potential 'crossover' voters said they supported the invasion of Iraq but had come to see the continuing involvement there as too costly and without clear objectives.

"Many also said they believed that the Bush administration had not been honest about its reasons for invading Iraq and were concerned about the failure to find unconventional weapons. Some of these people described themselves as fiscal conservatives who were alarmed by deficit spending, combined with job losses at home. Many are shocked to find themselves switching sides."

Ryan Lizza, in the New Republic's "Campaign Journal," takes a closer look at last week's Pew Research Center opinion poll and declares that the most stunning line is this one: "The most frequently used negative word to describe Bush is 'liar,' which did not come up in the May 2003 survey."

Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune reports on a statewide poll. "For the first time in his presidency, there are more Illinois voters of all political stripes who disapprove than approve of the job Bush is doing, and more than half don't want to see him elected to a second term, according to the poll."

Nancy Benac of the Associated Press reports that Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, "said the level of political polarization surrounding Bush, the division between Republicans who favor him and Democrats who don't, exceeds even that for President Clinton in September 1998 during the impeachment battle."

Judy Keen and Richard Benedetto, in their USA Today story on Bush's "stepping up" of his campaign, report that "GOP pollster Bill McInturff met privately with GOP governors in Washington to assure them that things aren't as bad as the news might suggest.

"His message: 'Quit the heavy breathing -- the president's poll numbers are still fundamentally strong, and the economy is improving. . . . The Democrats have had a good six weeks, and we've had a rough few weeks,' he said. 'The election is still eight months away.' "

Spot, R.I.P.

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes with the sad news that Spot, "President Bush's omnipresent brown-and-white English springer spaniel," was put down Saturday at age 14 after a series of strokes.

"Spot was a puppy of Millie, who belonged to the elder President Bush, and was born in the White House on March 17, 1989. Spot made her debut in a photo session with her littermates and is said by historians to be the only pet to live in the White House twice."

The White House Web site has photos and video, and a bio.

Johanna Neuman reports in the Los Angeles Times that over time, Spot "lost the presidential limelight to Barney, the Scottish terrier that President Bush gave to his wife, Laura, three years ago. Adored by both Bushes -- the president has described Barney as 'the son I never had' -- the little black dog is featured on the White House website in an annual Christmas video showing his view of things.

"Spot made a cameo appearance in the first year's Barney Cam effort. Barney Reloaded, released in December, was a one-dog show."

Recess Appointment

For the second time this year, the White House waited until a Friday afternoon to announce that President Bush was using a "recess appointment" to bypass the Senate on a high-profile and controversial judicial nomination.

It's a great way to minimize the press coverage and, even more significantly, the reaction. By the time everyone gets back to their offices on Monday morning, it's sort of old news.

Mike Allen reports in The Washington Post that this time, the seating was of William H. Pryor Jr., "the Alabama attorney general and an outspoken opponent of abortion, as an appeals court judge through 2005."

Here's the Neil A. Lewis story in the New York Times.

Last time, it was Charles W. Pickering Sr.'s on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. That announcement went out at 5:41 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

At least this one came at 3:20.

Revisiting Vietnam

David M. Halbfinger reports in the New York Times on a letter from Sen. John Kerry in which he "challenged Mr. Bush to a debate on the Vietnam era and 'the impact of our experiences on our approaches to presidential leadership.' "

Here's the letter.

Matea Gold and Scott Martelle write in the Los Angeles Times that "President Bush's reelection campaign Sunday rebuffed front-runner John F. Kerry's invitation to debate their military experiences during the Vietnam War, and said that it would continue to challenge his voting record on defense matters and the war against terrorism."

Here's the letter back, from Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot.

Josh White of The Washington Post writes that "[w]hy Bush decided to stop flying has been another question left unanswered as the president's critics parse his National Guard record. And the papers shed no new light on why the ambitious pilot decided to give up his wings."

The Washington Post's Outlook section asked five Vietnam veterans: "What is Vietnam Doing in This Campaign?"

Blogger Rex

Rex Hammock, the Tennessee businessman I wrote about in Friday's column, has now gotten more than his 15 minutes of fame, particularly in blogging circles.

The fact that Hammock "blogged" a meeting the press wasn't invited to has delighted many.

Hammock, on his Rexblog site, has done a nice job of summing up all the reaction and linking to all sorts of places that are mentioning, praising, and/or dissecting "Hammock Man" and his big day.

Rob Johnson wrote a front-page story in the Nashville Tennessean on it, too.

Cheney Watch

Julian Borger in the Guardian joins the parade, asking: "Has Bush's Running Mate Gone Lame?"

Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times writes about those Halliburton ads that assure the public that the company earns billions in government contracts "because of what we know, not who we know."

"The unnamed 'who' is, of course, Vice President Dick Cheney, Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 to 2000. . . . But at a time when President Bush's own campaign commercials have yet to start, the Halliburton spots -- two are on the air so far -- have created an awkward situation for the White House."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with the National Governors Association at the White House in the morning, then goes to the Washington Convention Center in the evening for his big speech before the Republican Governors Association.

Cheney is off to Minnesota and Kansas for a Bush-Cheney lunch in Minneapolis, followed by a visit to the El Burrito Mercado Restaurant in St. Paul, and then a Bush-Cheney dinner in Wichita.

Bush Makes a Toast

At the black-tie National Governors Association Dinner at the White House last night: "Last time I was with Governor Schwarzenegger it dawned on me that we have some things in common. We both married well. (Laughter.) We both have trouble with the English language. (Laughter.) We both have big biceps. (Laughter.) Well, two out of the three. (Laughter.)

Here's the full text.

And here's the guest list.

Odds and Ends

Al Kamen in The Washington Post's "In the Loop" column points out that this page on the White House Web site may be a bit out of date.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes about Laura Bush, and how "the reserved librarian who married the rollicking oilman on the condition that she would never have to make a political speech has suddenly transformed herself into a sharp-edged, tart-tongued, defensive protectrix of her husband's record."

Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times that Bush's tangled position on gay marriage "could cost him re-election, political analysts and prominent Republicans say."

David Goldstein writes in the Kansas City Star that "Possibly a dozen investigations, reviews and legal inquiries related to the administration's war on terrorism are under way." As a result, "with the focus on whether intelligence was faulty, manipulated or ignored, the White House could face complications as it tries to reap the political fruits of Bush's wartime leadership."

Karen Tumulty writes in Time Magazine that "as hard as Bush tries to show that he is both optimistic about the economy and empathetic to the plight of people who haven't felt the turnaround yet, there are some discomforting realities."

And The Washington Post's Dana Milbank tells the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk that Bush's nickname for him is "not printable in a family publication."

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