Chalk one up for the Bush team. Almost immediately after securing certain support in Congress for its move on Iraq, President Bush was out on the stump busting his hump on the economy and the so-called "kitchen table issues" that Democrats seem so desperate to push in the leadup to the November elections.
Bush's Saturday radio address handled the economy, and he could back some of it up with the new numbers coming out: unemployment slightly down, in a week when the stock market ended up. "It was a good week for us," says a White House congressional liaison staffer.
Everyone on the Democratic side, though, is feeling the "big mo" shifting away, and the desperation isn't just palpable, it's readable. Stan Greenberg, Bob Shrum and James Carville have been handing out a memo to Democratic pols advising them to give a nod to the war on terror and then move on. Fast.
"An opponent of the Iraq resolution can run competitively with the Republican proponent, when he or she affirms support for the war on terrorism in general, and expresses reservations in that context."
But even if a Democrat believes in the Bush policy on Iraq, the three-headed liberal monster advises that to win, such a Democrat should take the Clintonian and Gore approach: blur the position. In its words:
"A Democratic supporter of an Iraq resolution is most compelling and strongly preferred to the Republican supporter when he or she gives strong voice to certain reservations in that context."
"This has been an awful few weeks for us," says a Democratic fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. "We're down at least 30 percent from earlier this summer in terms of donations. And our candidates aren't getting the crowds we expected. We're in crisis mode."
And now with Bush having seemingly moved on to the domestic issues himself in the month leading up the elections, it appears that Democrats won't have the biggest issue they hoped to run on: the Republicans' seeming uninterest in domestic affairs.
"That's going to be out of play," says House Republican leadership staffer. "You're going to see the entire Republican leadership moving on the economy. We're not going to let the Democrats pull that bogeyman out to beat us up. We're going to beat them to the punch."
Bush has a golden opportunity to really lay down some good press in the coming days and set up Republicans for November. He's off to discuss global trade issues in Mexico at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. Then he's on the road for candidates and fundraising in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, New Mexico, Colorado, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee. In states where the GOP is poised to pick up a potential swing seat for the Senate, the White House has Bush dropping in at least twice over the next three weeks.
"People criticized Bush for not pushing hard enough on the campaign trail in the days just before the 2000 election," say an RNC staffer. "He's not going to be open to those complaints this time. He's going to be everywhere."
Sen. John Edwards was in North Carolina this weekend campaigning for Democratic candidates, including prospective Senate colleague Erskine Bowles. But Democrats in the Tarheel state continue to grumble that the soon to be "senior Senator" isn't doing enough for their people.
"He still isn't helping enough with fundraising," says a Bowles staffer. "Dean Smith has done more for us and he's supposed to be retired." Smith is the former University of North Carolina basketball coach who has held fundraisers for Bowles and been a visible presence on the campaign trail.
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