White House

Latest PR Blitz Lifts Spirits; GOP Presidential Hopefuls Keep Their Distance

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Latest PR Blitz Lifts Spirits
President Bush and his senior advisers feel they are on an upswing. "We're hitting our groove," says a key White House strategist. What has West Wing officials so optimistic is that they are pouncing on issues more quickly than they have in ages--in the process showing that Bush isn't a lame duck quite yet. In the past week, for example, Bush promptly declared much of Southern California a disaster area because of devastating wildfires, clearing the way for federal aid. He made a fast trip to the San Diego area to congratulate firefighters and comfort victims and promised to keep the dollars flowing. Bush also announced $500 million in assistance to help Mexico fight drug trafficking, imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran's military as a terrorist organization, and attacked the Democratic majority in Congress for failing to pass important appropriations bills.

Some White House officials attribute the feisty, can-do attitude to an infusion of new, more energetic staffers--"new blood," according to a Bush aide. Often mentioned in assessing the new team are three communications specialists: counselor Ed Gillespie, communications director Kevin Sullivan, and press secretary Dana Perino. It may be that the improved PR that these three have orchestrated won't improve Bush's effectiveness or raise his popularity. But White House aides say they're finally emerging from the doldrums. "We feel like we're more nimble and agile than we've been in a long time," says an official who has been there for a year.

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Keep Their Distance
Still, there's a limit to how much Bush can rebound. His low job-approval ratings among voters, for example, have prompted Republican presidential candidates to keep their distance. Advisers to the major GOP hopefuls seem to be developing a consensus on what role Bush should play in the 2008 campaign--little or none. He can always lend a hand in raising money for the party, but there is great reluctance by GOP candidates to have Bush play a visible role for them as long as his popularity remains low. "President Bush can be helpful if he stays out of the way," says a senior strategist for a top-tier Republican candidate. And Bush could hurt the eventual nominee, the strategist says, if he gets too aggressive in promoting policies that have driven his approval ratings down, such as reviving his call for partial privatization of Social Security or pushing anew for overhauling the immigration laws by endorsing a "path to citizenship" for illegal workers.

Minority Outreach Key In Race For The White House
For his part, Bush has a few nits to pick with his would-be successors. He tells friends he is disappointed that the major Republican candidates aren't appearing at more events geared to minority voters. Bush says one of the keys to GOP success in the 2008 election will be reaching out to Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans and, at minimum, demonstrating sympathy for their concerns. But the candidates haven't shown much interest yet. In September, for example, the major GOP candidates didn't attend a bilingual presidential forum sponsored by Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States.

Bush says he has proved what can be done with outreach. He was quite popular with Latino voters when he was governor of Texas for two terms. And as a presidential candidate, he received 30 percent of the Latino vote in 2000 and 40 percent in 2004.

PHOTO OP:11:22 a.m., October 23, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First lady Laura Bush talks with physicians at the Abdullatif Cancer Screening Center about the importance of breast cancer screening and education. Mrs. Bush was in Saudi Arabia to launch the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Partnership on Breast Cancer Awareness, which brings together medical experts from both countries.