W By Mike Allen
ASHINGTON – President Bush will hit the road for 14 straight days before the Nov. 5 elections, stopping in as many as four states a day during a taxpayer-subsidized campaign spree that looks unconstrained by preparations for war.
A tentative schedule even includes stops in New York and California and two in Pennsylvania – all states that lack tight races this year but are likely to play a major role in Bush’s re-election strategy.
Republicans were often critical of President Clinton for his heavy schedule of politicking, but White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was unabashed in describing Bush’s plan to spend most of two weeks “traveling around the country to support candidates who support his agenda.” Just a race or two will determine which party controls each chamber of Congress.
“In all times, whether our nation is at war or our nation is at peace, what makes us strong is our democratic process,” Fleischer said. “And everybody, in both parties, should proudly stand up and participate in our democratic process.”
Bush has some official business scheduled, including a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Afterward, Bush will stop in Mexico for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. He will meet there with world leaders who will be important to the coalition he hopes to build against Iraq, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The president will have quite a bit of business to conduct between now and the election,” Fleischer said. “He’ll conduct much of it on the road.”
Most of the campaign travel will be paid for by the government, including the costs of Air Force One, most of Bush’s entourage, and the phalanx of security, transportation and communications equipment that travels ahead to every stop.
White House officials say taxpayers bear those costs, as they did for his predecessors, on the theory that Bush is the president wherever he does. Under a formula in place since the Reagan administration, Republican state parties and campaigns will reimburse a portion of the cost of any political events, including rental of the hall and hotel rooms for advance staff. Bush often combines his political rallies with an official event, to defray even more of the party’s cost. In such cases, the White House apportions the cost of the events according to how much time he spent at each.
Democratic officials said they will try to make an issue of Bush’s taxpayer-subsidized travel in districts and states where he stops. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the majority whip, wrote to budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. on Sept. 26 to ask for an accounting of the government cost of Bush’s political trips. As of Thursday, the White House had not responded.
The administration does not release Bush’s travel plans more than a week ahead, but sources outside the White House provided his tentative itinerary for the next three weeks. White House officials cautioned that it could change if a race suddenly tightened and his presence would help, and a senior official described some of the stops on the list as “ideas.”
Most of Bush’s political travel has been centered around fund-raisers – he has raised a record $141 million for his party – but aides said that in coming weeks many of the president’s stops will consist of rallies designed to draw favorable local news media attention to Republicans.
Bush is scheduled to look out for his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, with two trips to Florida, including an overnight visit, to help his tight re-election race. Bush’s tentative schedule has him visiting most of the states with tight Senate races in the four days before Nov. 5, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas.