CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – President Bush swept through three Southern states yesterday for Republican candidates, hoping to capitalize on his tough-on-terrorism popularity while linking their Democratic rivals to the Clinton administration – largely unpopular in this region.
Though Bush did not mention the former president as he rallied Republican voters in the Carolinas and Alabama, his 12-hour campaign blitz was designed to reinforce the strategy of southern GOP candidates: Portray their Democratic opponents as tax-raising liberals who are out of step with the region’s conservative voters.
“We’re coming down the stretch. Candidates can’t win without you,” the president told a partisan crowd of several thousand voters while campaigning for Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole. He urged Republicans to lobby Democrats and independents for their support: “Turn them out to vote.”
Bush’s trip reflects a shift in congressional battlegrounds that could favor Republicans in the South. While suburban districts were central to the last few congressional campaigns, rural America became this year’s focal point because of GOP retirements and the creation of several large rural districts after the 2000 Census.
Southern Democrats, particularly whites, began migrating to the Republican Party in the 1960s. The trend continued into the 1990s, when President Clinton’s support for gays in the military, gun control and a national health care system played poorly in the South. Democrats lost control of the House in 1994.
Hoping to reverse the trend, Democratic leaders recruited candidates who wander from the party’s positions on gun control, abortion, taxes and national security.
Bush, as if in response, denounced Democrats for opposing his tax cuts and plans to create a Department of Homeland Security. He said the Democratic-run Senate had done a “lousy job” seating federal judges.
“We’ve got a vacancy problem because they don’t like it that I’m nominating good people who are going to strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench from which to legislate,” Bush said, using a phrase that signals conservatives to his anti-abortion views.
Even as he touted the Senate candidacy of a woman, Bush warmed up his Southern audience with a joke at his wife’s expense. He said Laura Bush was at their Texas ranch preparing for his Friday visit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
“It’s been raining, so she needs to sweep the porch because the president of China is coming,” he said as the audience laughed.
Dole’s opponent, Erskine Bowles, was White House chief of staff under Clinton. Dole and her supporters, seeking to portray him as a liberal, constantly remind voters of Bowles’ ties to the former president and first lady, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y).
“At every opportunity my opponent is for higher taxes, bigger government and more regulation,” Dole said during a debate with Bowles.
Without mentioning Bowles, Bush underscored Dole’s anti-tax theme.
“The best way to invigorate a sluggish economy … is to let people keep more of their own money,” the president said.
The national Democratic Party, shadowing Bush’s every step, issued statements in the Carolinas and Alabama blaming Bush for the ailing economy. In North Carolina, for example, the unemployment rate has increased by 1.6 percent under Bush, and North Carolina investors have lost $5 billion in their 401(k) plans, Democrats said.
Despite the economy, Bush’s approval rating is unusually high, mainly due to his anti-terrorism efforts. Thus, Republican candidates like to hear him talk tough about Iraq.
“Take `em out, George!” an audience member yelled as Bush spoke of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In South Carolina, the president came to the aid of Rep. Lindsey Graham, who is seeking the seat being vacated by 99-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. Graham, who leads in polls against Democrat Alex Sanders, garnered prominence as a House manager of the Clinton impeachment.
In a recent debate, Graham discussed government benefits for spouses in same-sex relationships, and questioned whether Sanders would support it, as Sen. Clinton does.
Sanders replied, “I’ve never spoken to her.”
The North and South Carolina races could prove critical in the Republican campaign to take control of the Senate, which Democrats control by a single vote.
At a rally in the Jimmy Doolittle Flight Facility in Columbia, S.C., Graham explained why Bush is running so hard for a Republican-controlled Congress. “Mr. President, when I go to the Senate, help is on the way for your agenda,” Graham said.
Also in South Carolina, Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges faces a stiff re-election campaign against Republican Mark Sanford, a former congressman.
Another Democratic governor – Don Siegelman – faces a tough test in Alabama against Republican challenger Bob Riley, now a member of the House.
State budget woes are an issue in both contests.
The race to replace Riley in Congress has drawn Bush and his top advisers to the side of Republican state Rep. Mike Rogers.
Headline: Bush tries to help southern Republicans cast Democrats as out of step with region’s voters
Creation Date: 10/24/2002 15:03:45 Submit Date: 10/24/2002 15:27:22
By Line: By RON FOURNIER Title: AP White House Correspondent
Object Name: BUSH, 4TH LD-WRITETHRU
Source: The Associated Press Credit: (AP)
File Type: text/xml