ROCHESTER, Minn. – President Bush, campaigning Friday to oust Democratic senators in Missouri and Minnesota, said winning control of the Senate for the Republicans would pave the way for progress on a long list of items he wants on the economy and national security.
Criticizing Democrats for slowness in approving his judicial nominees and his proposal for a Homeland Security Department, Bush sought to demonstrate a need for voters to tip the Senate out of Democratic hands in the midterm elections, now less than three weeks off.
"The Senate has got a lousy record when it comes to my judges,'' Bush told a roaring crowd at Southwest Missouri State University. "You need a United States senator like Jim Talent who will not play shameless politics with the judges I've presented.''
Former Republican Rep. Talent is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan. Talent, who lost his race for governor in 2000, entered the final stretch of the campaign with more than double the funds of Carnahan and a recent poll suggesting he was edging ahead.
Carnahan's husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash about three weeks before Election Day in 2000. He still won his Senate race against incumbent Sen. (and now Attorney General) John Ashcroft, and Jean Carnahan was appointed to the seat. The winner of the upcoming Nov. 5 special election will serve the remaining four years of the term.
Bush's appearances Friday at the campaign rally in Springfield, Mo., and another later in the day in Rochester, Minn., had him stumping in two battleground states considered by White House political advisers to be special concerns for any 2004 re-election bid of his own. In 2000, Bush won Missouri and lost Minnesota — states that combine for 21 electoral votes.
In a continuing White House effort to show Bush's resolve on the struggling economy — even as his administration wages the war on terror and contemplates war in Iraq — the president took his usual complaint that last year's tax cuts are not permanent one step further.
The tax relief plan means Missourians will benefit by $32 billion and Minnesotans by $38 billion over 10 years, from reductions in income taxes, estate taxes, and the so-called marriage penalty and the addition of new child credits, Bush said.
He insisted relief from the estate tax — "one of the worst taxes we have on the books'' — should not expire, and urged election of the GOP Senate candidates in both states to ensure that.
"The Senate giveth and the Senate taketh away,'' he said to a packed fieldhouse at Rochester Community and Technical College.
Bush also is using his Saturday radio address to talk about his retirement security proposals, previewing new regulations that the Labor Department will announce on Monday to implement the congressionally passed requirement that employees be given 30 days' notice of any blackout period for making changes to their pension accounts.
Before leaving Washington, Bush signed a temporary spending measure to keep the government running through the election.
Later Friday, he was taping a "message of sympathy and solidarity'' to the people of Australia, who lost many relatives and friends in the terrorist attacks on Bali, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. In Missouri, Bush said Americans will "be joining our friends in Australia in a day of mourning for the terrible tragedy that took place. We lost lives, they lost a lot of lives.''
In Minnesota, Bush sought to boost the chances of Minnesota Republicans, from Senate nominee Norm Coleman and gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty on down.
Bush's motorcade, greeted in Missouri by scores of anti-war protesters, met miles of well-wishers on the route into Rochester.
Recent polls put Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, in a close race against Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.
By evening, Bush was to be at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains for the remainder of the weekend