SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Laura Bush enjoys campaigning, despite what her husband says, so much so that at times she finds herself getting "emotionally vested'' with the candidates, many of whom are friends she wants to see do well.
Besides, she knows what it's like to "be in their shoes.''
"One of my favorite parts of it ... is getting to know the candidates and being with the candidates,'' Mrs. Bush told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday after a long weekend of solo appearances on behalf of Republican candidates in five states.
It was her most intense schedule of political campaigning in two years.
"You get emotionally vested, really, in the people who are your friends that you want to do well,'' the first lady said while waiting for President Bush to arrive for a joint appearance. They will campaign together until Tuesday's midterm elections, in which Republicans are vying to retain the House and regain control of the Senate.
"I feel pretty good about Tuesday ... but I do know that these are very close races,'' Mrs. Bush said. "It really is going to be a matter of who gets their voters to turn out.''
On the campaign trail, the first lady enjoys meeting new people and visiting different parts of the country. After an event Sunday in Rapid City, her airplane flew low enough to give her and her travel companions a bird's-eye view of Mount Rushmore.
"You really have a chance to see all of our country and how beautiful our country is and to see all these people who really reinforce my idea that American people are very strong, that American people are good,'' she said. "I think that's what you really see when you campaign.''
The president is fond of telling audiences that his wife, the "lead campaigner for my family,'' doesn't like politics. But Mrs. Bush is, in fact, a seasoned campaigner.
Her first appearances date back to her husband's failed bid for the House. She stumped for her father-in-law, George H.W. Bush, the former president and two-term vice president under Ronald Reagan. She was at her husband's side during his two successful campaigns for Texas governor and the 2000 presidential campaign. Last month, she appeared with brother-in-law and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is in a competitive race for re-election against Democrat Bill McBride.
Of her husband, she said: "He likes to act like it's the first time I've ever campaigned but, believe me, it isn't.''
It shows. After her motorcade arrived in Dell Rapids on Sunday, Mrs. Bush stepped from her vehicle and spent the next 30 minutes in bone-chilling cold — without an overcoat — patiently greeting, posing for photographs and signing autographs for the local residents who waited, up to several hours in some cases, to welcome her.
"We just really want to shake her hand,'' said Jeannie Ammon, who lined up with homemade signs and birthday balloons four hours early. Mrs. Bush turns 56 on Monday, and celebrates her 25th wedding anniversary on Election Day.
She speaks for about 15 to 20 minutes, always reading from prepared text, making slight changes along the way. Afterward, she spends twice as much time working the ropeline, shaking hands and saying, "Nice to meet you'' or "Hi, everybody.''
In the interview, she said she empathizes with the candidates.
"I know what it's like to be in their shoes right now, to be nervous about Tuesday night, to be so anxious that every single one of your voters will show up,'' Mrs. Bush said.
"I can really empathize with what the candidates are feeling like, and also what their spouses are all wondering, like 'Are we going to move to Washington?, Are we going to move to the governor's house?, Are we going to stay home?''' she said.
But the great thing about campaigns, Mrs. Bush added, is that "there's an end, always'' — on Election Day.