WASHINGTON – Wednesday finds President Bush doing a rare thing: spending a full day in the nation's capital. But he won't be around for long — he hits the road again the next day.
Aug. 2 was Bush's last full day in Washington, when he appeared in the Rose Garden to announce his support for intelligence reforms. Locked in a tight race for re-election with Democrat John Kerry (search), Bush is roaming the country instead.
And politics won't be far away even as Bush breaks his 44-day, outside-the-Beltway streak. He gets a chance to appeal to a key constituency at a White House concert and reception Wednesday in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (search).
On Thursday, he heads for Minnesota and several more days of travel.
Bush visited a total of 21 states during the 44 days, including three stays at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and time at his family's home on the Maine coast.
But most of the travel has been to the dozen or so states where he and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry are fighting hardest — six trips to Ohio, five to Pennsylvania, four each to Iowa, Florida, Michigan and West Virginia, and twice to Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Though the recent flurry has been particularly intense, it is typical of a tough schedule that is hardly new for presidents seeking re-election. Former President Clinton, for example, spent about two-thirds of August 1996 — the year he sought re-election — outside of Washington, including a Wyoming vacation and attendance at his party's nominating convention.
The number of Bush travel days has been in double digits every month since February. And he has spent just a handful of full days in Washington all summer — just 10 since Memorial Day.
Bush aides, always loath to acknowledge political calculation behind the president's decisions or schedule, say the travel is nothing more than a continuation of normal practice.
"The president has always traveled outside of Washington to discuss his agenda with people across the country," Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. "As the election approaches, the president is enjoying talking about the issues facing the nation, his record of accomplishment and his vision for the future."
The reason Bush is such a road warrior is clear: Political Campaigns 101 tells candidates from junior high to the White House that they've got to get out among their constituency — especially as Election Day nears — to have any hope of winning.
"I'm here to ask for your vote, that's what I'm doing today," Bush said Monday at a campaign rally in Holland, Mich., using a line he repeats in virtually every speech. "I believe you've got to get out amongst the people and ask for the vote."
Add to that the often-favorable local media coverage a president gets on such visits and the modern-day necessity for politicians to espouse a distaste for all things Washington, and you have a recipe for plane-hopping.
There's likely more to it as well, said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at George Washington University.
"Beside the obvious reasons, he does seem to enjoy it," Hess said. "This fellow, more than almost anyone I've seen, doesn't want to be fenced in."
Indeed, Bush seems to bask in the attention from the supporters-only crowds he speaks to on the road. And the "Ask President Bush" setting his campaign uses frequently — in which the president, mike in hand, casually and with lots of humor, interacts with his audience — plays to his strengths as a campaigner.
In a switch from earlier in the year or last year, most of Bush's trips this summer have been openly declared to be campaign-related. Previously, "official" White House appearances were arranged in key electoral states or tacked onto days that included a campaign event. That allowed Bush — like other presidents before him — to travel at least partly at taxpayer expense.