Using the backdrop of the Iraq war to launch some of his toughest campaign attacks this political season, President Bush on Monday accused Democrats of being more concerned with pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq than with winning the war.
Kicking off the final week of a campaign that will determine whether his party will retain its House and Senate majorities, Bush went to the heart of issues that helped Republicans come out on top in 2002 and 2004: terrorism, taxes and a conservative social agenda.
Bush listed several key anti-terrorism measures opposed by Democrats, noting that when it came to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists, detaining them or trying them, members of that party “just say no.”
“So when the Democrats ask for your vote, what’s your answer?” he asked his audiences here in Texas and earlier in Statesboro, Ga., where more than 5,000 supporters gathered at Georgia Southern University.
“Just say no!” the crowd roared at each stop.
The office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a terse response: “Contrary to the president’s intentions, Americans are just saying no to his administration’s no-plan, no-end approach to Iraq.”
In the campaign’s final week, Bush is barnstorming across the country, appearing at what the White House calls “2006 victory rallies” and serving up red-meat Republican issues to the party faithful to get these core GOP voters to the polls.
To reach that constituency, Bush also took to the airwaves Monday, as did Vice President Dick Cheney, with each giving an interview to programs on Fox News Channel.
Cheney told “Your World With Neil Cavuto” that insurgents in Iraq had timed the increase in violence -- October has been the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. troops, with more than 100 killed -- to the U.S. political calendar.
“It’s my belief that they’re very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled,” he said.
In an two-part interview that began Monday on “Hannity & Colmes,” Bush said that some Democratic leaders “are becoming isolationists. And that’s dangerous.”
“Protecting this country and keeping this economy growing are the two most important issues,” he said. “And you can’t protect the country if you retreat from overseas, and you can’t keep the economy growing if you raise taxes. And that’s exactly what the Democrats in the House would like to do.”
In Georgia, Bush drew sharp partisan distinctions as he belittled the opposition to the war, which is proving a powerful pro-Democrat issue: “The Democrat approach on Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win, and America loses,” he said.
“The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq,” he said. “You cannot win a war unless you are willing to fight the war.”
On the economy, Bush linked the growth of jobs -- 6.6 million added since August 2003, he said -- and a 2.2% increase in average wages over the last year with the tax cuts championed by his administration.
Adopting one of his signature campaign lines for the current week, he said, “If you want to keep that money in your pocket instead of sending it to Washington, D.C., you vote for Republicans on election day.”
And he returned again to an issue important to evangelicals and other social conservatives, attacking last week’s New Jersey state Supreme Court ruling that “raises doubt about the institution of marriage” to bolster his case for Republican candidates who would oppose judges who “legislate from the bench.”
The president’s opposition to same-sex marriage brought the audience to its feet: He could not have asked for a better response in motivating supporters to get to the polls.
“You can bet one thing -- we’re going to sprint to the finish line,” Bush said, presaging a full-bore week of campaigning not only by him, but also by Cheney, who is traveling to Montana on Wednesday, and First Lady Laura Bush, who was in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire on Monday and will end up Thursday evening at a rally in Rocklin, Calif.
“When our voters show up at the polls,” the president predicted, “we will keep control of the House and Senate.”
His declarations of victory notwithstanding, the president’s appearance Monday in this Houston suburb illuminates the Republicans’ difficulties this year.
Sugar Land is the hometown of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has come to symbolize ethical lapses in Congress. His indictment by a state grand jury on campaign finance charges and the attention paid to his association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, convicted in an influence-peddling scandal, led him to abandon his reelection race in April and resign from the House in June.
Under Texas election laws, the candidate eventually endorsed by the Republican Party, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, faces a complicated task: Because DeLay dropped out of the race after the Texas primary in March, her supporters will need to vote for her twice: once on the regular ballot as the candidate in a special election to finish out DeLay’s current term, and again as a write-in candidate for the two-year term starting in January.
So, as dusk fell, there was Bush, in an airport hangar, delivering a message of Republican conservatism to Texans whose fervor would not normally need stoking.