WASHINGTON – President Bush went to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's hometown, Aberdeen, S.D., on Thursday to campaign for a Senate candidate whose victory could help determine the majority party in the Senate next session.
In one of the closest races in the country, Bush aimed to get out the vote for the South Dakota's GOP Rep. John Thune, his handpicked candidate to try and unseat one-term Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
"If you believe in freedom, if you believe in the values that make this country the finest nation on the face of the earth, you have a duty to go to the polls,'' Bush said, urging voters to go to the polls on Election Day next Tuesday. "I believe when those discerning Democrats and those wise independents get a look at the candidates that I'm here to support, they're going to vote for them.''
Across the nation, lawmakers were campaigning hard in a handful of states with unpredictable outcomes, and asking big names to extend their support in the last-minute get-out-the-vote rallies.
Not only is the entire House up for grabs, but a third of the Senate and more than two-thirds of the governorships will be decided in next Tuesday's elections.
The stakes are high all around. Democrats maintain only a one-seat majority in the Senate. A loss of six seats could turn over the Republican-led House.
A switch in the majority of governorships could affect how the state heads collectively cooperate with the president, and what can be expected in several states grappling with declining budget revenues.
In Maryland, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Ted Kennedy were attending a rally for Democratic candidates, including Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is running neck-and-neck with GOP Rep. Bob Ehrlich for the governor's chair.
Vice President Dick Cheney was bounding through Missouri, Iowa and Texas for Victory 2002 events.
Former President Clinton was scheduled to return to his home state of Arkansas to help state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher in her bid to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee.
On Thursday, former vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., attended events in Missouri for embattled Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, who is facing a tough challenge from former GOP Rep. Jim Talent.
"The future of America is going to be decided right here in Missouri, with Jean Carnahan's election," Lieberman told about 120 senior citizens at Palestine Missionary Baptist Church Senior Activity Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Tuesday's election will "determine whether one party, the Republican Party, will control the White House and, God forbid, both houses of Congress. Because what you'll have then is the president being a rubber stamp for the right-wing agenda of the Republican Congress," Lieberman said.
Aides say the president is determined to defy history, and help Republicans win the one seat that would deliver control of the Senate to them. The party in the White House hasn't gained seats in the Senate in an off-year election in 20 years. In the House, the president's party has only picked up seats three times since 1865.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove mapped out the 16 campaign stops the president would make in the five days before the election. At each, the president was to argue that the Democratic-controlled Senate is blocking progress on everything from health care to the efficient functioning of federal courts.
One of his biggest bones of contention is over stalled legislation creating a Homeland Security Department. That bill is now stuck in the Senate over a labor rights dispute. Democrats are demanding he give up authority to waive union organizing rights for the workers.
"Here we are at war. I have more flexibility in dealing with the work rules for the Department of Agriculture than I would in the department charged with your protection," Bush said in Aberdeen. "It doesn't make any sense. I need to be able to put the right people in the right place at the right time to protect the American people. John Thune will support me in advancing a homeland security bill that makes sense."
Bush also stumped for the other South Dakota candidates. Current Gov. Bill Janklow is in a close race against Democrat Stephanie Herseth for the seat being vacated by Thune, and Mike Rounds is running for governor to take the place of Janklow, who is term-limited.
Pundits have called the race for the Senate majority a proxy fight between Bush and Daschle. Daschle was headed to South Dakota on Thursday to campaign for Johnson through to Election Day.
In a record-breaking fund-raising year, however, Republicans are attempting to play down that suggestion, perhaps to avoid the appearance of the president losing to Daschle if the Senate doesn't change hands.
But Republicans may not have to fear, at least in South Dakota, where overflow crowds tolerated freezing weather to hear the president speak. Many were turned away at the door because no space was left in the Barnett Center on the Northern State University campus or in another auditorium nearby.
Daschle's mother, Betty Daschle, who lives in Aberdeen, was not impressed.
"I think it's kind of strange that Tom had trouble getting him out here for the drought and he can come for (the) election because it's Tom Daschle's home territory," said Betty Daschle, the Senate majority leader's mother.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.