WASHINGTON – President Bush sought to paint a clear and simple difference Tuesday between the two political parties, telling voters that Republicans want to give Americans more money, while Democrats just want to spend it.
"We've made our position clear: we believe in lower taxes and we intend to keep them that way," Bush told an enthusiastic crowd in Sarasota, Fla., where he campaigned for businessman Vern Buchanan, who is in a tight House race against Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank executive.
Bush said the difference in approach to tax cuts is a distinction that Americans will feel for "years to come."
"Americans will cast their ballots on November 7, but you will feel the decision every April 15," he said.
The president ticked off a few of the positive economic numbers that Republicans hope voters will latch onto ahead of the election. Bush said real wages have risen 2.2 percent in the past year. He pointed to an unemployment rate that is hovering at 4.6 percent, the best figures for the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration.
The president said since August 2003, 6.6 million jobs have been added to the economy, and the deficit has reached half of what it was two years ago. Bush credited tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, and faulted Democrats for predicting that the cuts would have led to a jobless recovery from recession and an exploding deficit.
"The Democrats make a lot of predictions," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, I think they may be measuring the drapes. If their electoral predictions are as reliable as their economic predictions, November 7 is going to be a good day for Republicans."
Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to regain the House and a gain of six seats to reclaim the Senate. In trying to seal the deal, they argue that the middle class isn't enjoying the benefits of the upswing, with sluggish median earnings proving that paychecks have failed to keep pace with inflation. They also point to rising health care and energy costs.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the president's continued commitment to what she described as as an effort to privatize Social Security is proof Bush is not interested in helping the middle class. Bush told CNBC a day earlier that Americans should be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security into private savings account.
"President Bush's statement yesterday now removes all doubt that he is out of touch and doesn't listen to the American people who have resoundingly rejected Social Security privatization," Pelosi said.
Democrats say they are also interested in pressing the issue of the minimum wage, which hasn't gone up nationally from $5.15 per hour since 1997. Eighteen states have set their own minimum wages higher than the federal rate. This year, six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Missouri and Ohio — have ballot initiatives this year to raise minimum wages in their states.
"The American people believe that the minimum wage needs to be raised. They understand that our national minimum wage is actually an embarrassment and that action needs to be taken to help the millions of Americans who work for the minimum wage and deserve a raise," former Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential candidate, said Monday.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll earlier this month found that 88 percent of likely voters surveyed say the economy is an important issue, with 42 percent of those questioned approving of Bush's handling of the economy.
That could be important to Republicans, as a FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll found that among independent voters, 22 percent say their vote will be an expression of support for Bush while 41 percent said it will be an expression of opposition. Another 29 percent said Bush is not a factor in their vote. In that poll, 39 percent of all voters said the economy is extremely important to their vote.
Although polls show the GOP trailing with two weeks left to the election, White House adviser Tony Fratto rejected suggestions that the president is a drag on the candidates. Fratto said Bush has been "very aggressive" in campaigning, and is ahead of his 2002 event pace.
Of the possibility of maintaining a Republican majority, Fratto said: "We are still in the game and if you're in the game you're in it to win."
While Bush was in Florida, some of his senior advisers gave interviews to talk radio show hosts, who were invited to do their shows Tuesday from the White House lawn.
Bush adviser Karl Rove told FOX News Talk's Brian and the Judge that Republicans will keep control of the House and Senate. He said polls indicate Democrats are no more energized to vote for the Democratic plan for Iraq than Republicans are put off by the handling of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. He also said Republicans are poised to mount the biggest get-out-the-vote effort in history.
But the war policy in Iraq seems to be one of the sorest spots for Republicans. Poll after poll shows voters are unhappy with the strategy for Iraq, which has not seen a significant and persistent decline in violence in the past three and a half years.
Gen. George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq, told reporters Tuesday that it will take another 12 to 18 months before Iraqi security forces are "completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security." He added that they will likely still need support from U.S forces.
That brought a wrath of criticism from Democrats, who say the administration's strategy has submerged Iraq in chaos.
"It is clear that the strategy — or tactics, as the president says — that we've been following have not been bringing security and stability to Iraq. Therefore, we needed to change course. We've been urging that for well over a year," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
"The president has continually said, and the vice president, we need to stay the course. We're now two weeks before the election and we have a major announcement. We welcome that announcement, but we want to see exactly what is meant by the announcement, what plans are going to be put in place," Hoyer told FOX News.
Bush has characterized all the Democrats' proposals for Iraq as "cut and run," a phrase they detest. They have tried to turn the tables on Republicans by summing up the administration's policy as "stay the course."
Bush most recently used the phrase at the end of August and Snow said he won't use it again.
"What you have is not 'stay the course,' but, in fact, a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government, and, frankly, also by the enemy, because there are constant shifts, and you constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing," he said.
"The president's decision to ban the 'stay the course' slogan is meaningless unless it is accompanied by a change in the 'stay the course' strategy," Pelosi responded. "No matter what slogans are used to describe it, the president's Iraq policy has been a dismal failure. It is long past time for a new direction in Iraq."
In Sarasota, where he hasn't visited since speaking to schoolchildren on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush pointed to what he says are major differences between Democrats and Republicans in the War on Terror. He referred specifically to military tribunals created to try enemy combatants and detainees, and the warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.
"The American people must fully understand that the vast majority of Democrats oppose the right of this administration to have a tool necessary to protect you. We just have a different view. They must not think we're at war. They must think that the best way to protect you is to respond after the attack," Bush said.
Speaking to FOX News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that divisive talk from Democrats, particularly Pelosi, helps the GOP cause.
"I think Nancy is not in sync with the vast majority of the American people," Cheney said. "The fact of the matter is there are fundamental differences and Nancy represents what I think is that side of the Democratic Party that has not been supportive of and does not believe in a really robust, aggressive prosecution of the global War on Terror."