First Lady Talks Voting, Women in Africa

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Traveling in Africa in part to empower its often disenfranchised women, Laura Bush (search) said Wednesday she would not automatically vote for a woman in a field of candidates for president of the United States.

"If a woman were to run, it would be exactly the same thing I would consider in any other election — and that is who I think has the best character, whose views are similar to mine," Bush told reporters as her plane brought her here from Cape Town (search), South Africa.

She raised — and then quickly rejected — the idea of supporting a Democrat. "I would vote for, in most cases, the Republican," she said and then added after a pause, "Maybe I should say in all [cases]."

Her predecessor as first lady, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) of New York, is likely seen as a potential Democratic candidate for 2008. Other women have also been mentioned as eventual White House hopefuls such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

The first lady said she has no intention of ever running herself. "I've ruled out the possibility of running for president. I actually never considered the possibility of running for president," she said.

Mrs. Bush, accompanied by daughter Jenna, descended from their plane to a red carpet on a hot tarmac to be greeted by traditional African dancers, barefoot women with their faces painted white and huge feather headdresses, and men in white shirts and short with red sashes.

At a catholic-run organization here that provides AIDS treatment prevention, Jenna Bush offered gifts to children orphaned by the disease, handing them pens, bookmarks, photos of the presidential dogs and spiral notebooks before she and the first lady heard their stories.

Mrs. Bush said the group, which is funded from the president's $15 billion initiative, is a perfect example for the kind of religious charity to which the president wants to funnel more money and help.

"Lives have been lost, dreams have died, productivity and creativity have vanished," Mrs. Bush said in a tree-shaded yard before dozens of staff and volunteers.

"We can stop it. The American people are committed to standing with the peoples of Africa," she said.

In a part of the continent that is key in the U.S.-led war on terror, Mrs. Bush was also preaching an American goodwill message to the country's large Muslim population. She was visiting Tanzania for two days.

The possibility that overwhelmingly Muslim Zanzibar — Tanzania's Indian Ocean archipelago — could turn toward a stricter form of Islam and away from democracy in fall elections is posing some concerns in Tanzania's secular government.

Mindful of the 1998 deadly truck bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, Washington is keeping an eye on an area where anti-Western rhetoric has increasingly been a feature of Friday sermons.

The elections set for Oct. 30 in Zanzibar are feared to be even more turbulent than the other two rounds that have been held since single-party rule ended in 1992. In recent months, six people have been killed, voter registration centers have been attacked and homes as well as churches have been set afire in political violence.

Semiautonomous Zanzibar, which united with the mainland in 1964, elects its own president and legislature.

Mrs. Bush is playing ambassador to Muslims during her visit to Zanzibar, going to the Al Rahma Madrasa Pre-Primary School to tout a U.S.-funded effort to increase the community's access to education by helping to build schools. After a classroom tour, she was to talk with students, parents and teachers.

On Wednesday in Dar es Salaam, the executive capital of Tanzania, Mrs. Bush is to visit a Catholic-run organization that teaches AIDS prevention, provides home and clinic care for AIDS sufferers and supports children orphaned by the disease. The group, called Pastoral Activities and Services For People with AIDS in Dar Es Salaam Archdiocese, or PASADA, is funded in part with money from the president's five-year, $15 billion AIDS initiative.