WASHINGTON – Hungry for full Republican control of Congress, President Bush is sandwiching a weekend of critical diplomatic summits between multistate campaign trips to bolster the GOP in some of the nation's tightest races.
Bush's electioneering across the South on Thursday would land him at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, where he was hosting Chinese President Jiang Zemin on Friday. Over the weekend, Bush was to meet with nearly two dozen Pacific Rim leaders in Mexico.
Then it would be back to the campaign trail, with Bush cramming in another four states on Sunday and Monday before returning to Washington for a brief respite.
Thursday's itinerary had Bush starring at politically funded campaign rallies in three states — North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama — that are traditionally friendly to the GOP and fell into Bush's column in 2000. While the president is touting the entire Republican ticket at his stops, each state has a race that political strategists and pollsters consider among the nation's most competitive and thus meriting special presidential attention.
Bush has taken to aggressively courting voters to the polls in the two-week countdown to the Nov. 5 midterm elections. Up for grabs are control of the House and the Senate, as well as 36 governors' mansions.
With turnout key, Bush has only in recent days begun specifically asking for voters to support the Republican candidates by his side.
"It's an important election, and we need these candidates to win,'' Bush said at a rally in Bangor, Maine, earlier in the week.
Bush, sensitive to Democrats' efforts to saddle him and his fellow Republicans with voters' concerns about the sagging economy, also has focused more on domestic issues. Democrats, meanwhile, distributed statistics showing more than 100,000 more people are without jobs since the president first took office in the three states he is targeting Thursday.
In Charlotte, N.C., Bush was appearing for the third time on behalf of Elizabeth Dole, running a tightening contest against Democrat Erskine Bowles to replace the retiring GOP Sen. Jesse Helms. Dole, despite challenging Bush for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination, has been one the biggest beneficiaries of the president's record-breaking fund-raising drive this year.
In South Carolina, Bush was seeking to help Rep. Lindsey Graham replace retiring Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond and Republican challenger Mark Sanford unseat Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.
Earlier in the year, Bush devoted most of his political efforts to higher-profile Senate and gubernatorial races. Now — reflecting the relatively few seats in play and the high stakes — Bush has turned toward several close House battles as well and was heading to an Auburn University baseball stadium to help Republican Mike Rogers win a congressional seat.
Rep. Bob Riley also would get a presidential plug for his bid to be Alabama's next governor.
At his Texas ranch, Bush plays host to Jiang, who has long — and openly — coveted an invitation to Bush's beloved private home. But before Jiang climbs in Bush's pickup truck for a tour of the property's canyons, the two presidents will soberly consult on North Korea, whose admission to building nuclear weapons threatens an arms-race tinderbox in China's backyard.
"We need to see what common strategies we can employ to try and get the North Koreans to live up to their international obligations, to recognize that they cannot, on the one hand, say that they want to re-enter the international community ... and on the other hand, brandish an illegal nuclear weapons program that is in clear violation of international obligations that they undertook,'' National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said of the Bush-Jiang talks.
On Saturday, Bush continues on to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit of 21 world leaders meeting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There, Bush will pull aside key allies — Mexican President Vicente Fox, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Russian President Vladimir Putin — for separate meetings on what to do about Iraq and North Korea.
Bush will also huddle with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, pressuring her to crack down on militant groups after the Oct. 12 terrorist bombings of a Bali nightclub where more than 180 people died.