Laura Bush Ready for Primetime Close-Up

If the pollsters are right, first lady Laura Bush (search) really is the president's better half.

Polls show Laura Bush is more popular than her husband, which may be one reason the president gives her star treatment at campaign events.

Last week in Albuquerque, N.M., before the welcoming cheers had subsided, Bush said he was sorry that his wife was not there.

"Today I'm going to give you some reasons why I think you ought put me back in there, but perhaps the most important one of all is so that Laura will be first lady for four more years," Bush said to applause.

Laura Bush's prominence and popularity in Bush's re-election effort will be on display Tuesday night, when she addresses the Republican convention in prime time.

She is an effective campaigner, perhaps more so than other popular first ladies, because she appeals to committed Republicans and coveted independent voters alike, presidential scholars said.

"Previously she was pretty much in the background, but now they have brought her to the foreground because ... he needs all the help he can get," said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian at Boston University.

Two-thirds of voters have a favorable view of Laura Bush and 12 percent have an unfavorable view, recent polls show.

By contrast, just over half have a favorable view of the president and more than four in 10 have an unfavorable view.

In a speech Monday, Barbara Bush, who also enjoyed broad popularity, called her son, the president, "a good man," resolute, reliable and compassionate, but she called her daughter-in-law "the most generous, the most loyal, the most wonderful, the most calming, the most soothing, the smartest and the strongest person I know."

Laura Bush is campaigning almost daily, sometimes with Bush but more often on her own. That is a change from her role in the 2000 presidential election and from Bush's gubernatorial campaigns in Texas, when she let it be known she did not relish the public glare.

Her campaign appearances are still less overtly political than her husband's. She often speaks to women's organizations, and stresses the importance of education and literacy. She usually gets in a joke about her husband being surrounded by powerful women at the office, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and at home.

In August, Laura Bush campaigned in battleground states including Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania. She will appear with Bush in Michigan on Monday, do a round of television interviews Tuesday morning and then fly to New York. She will squeeze in a campaign stop on Wednesday before returning to New York to watch Bush accept the nomination Thursday night.

"She helps present a moderate view of Bush, and that is an aim of the convention," said Paul Boller Jr., professor emeritus of political science at Texas Christian University, who has studied the role of first ladies in presidential campaigns.

Laura Bush's topic Tuesday night, "the compassion of the American people," reflects the understated tone.

"Mrs. Bush is going to offer her personal perspective on the president's leadership over the last four years," said her spokesman, Gordon Johndroe. "She will talk about his accomplishments, their family and the hopeful days still to come."

Laura Bush has said she does not think Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling allowing nationwide legalized abortion, should be overturned. But more recently, she also has defended her husband's limitation of embryonic stem cell research.

In an interview this week in Time magazine, she said she has an open mind about whether the country needs a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, something her husband supports and which is part of the GOP platform.

Asked if she has ever hosted a gay couple at the White House or in Texas, Bush replied, "I'm sure we have."