WASHINGTON -- President Bush is devoting unprecedented attention to the Middle East, as well as pressing ahead with the war on terrorism. But with an eye toward November's congressional elections and his own 2004 re-election bid, he is devoting no less energy to his largely dormant domestic agenda.
Since February, the president has spent about two days each week traveling around the United States to promote causes ranging from greater volunteerism and expansion of Head Start.
His more ambitious proposals, such as further tax cuts and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are unlikely to be realized in the closely divided Congress. Others are narrow in scope.
Yet there is method in the president's tireless promotion of these issues.
As Bush will demonstrate during a visit Monday to Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- where he plans to speak about the economy and tax cuts and then attend a Republican fund-raiser -- such dual-purpose trips, which usually take up much of a day, are the linchpin of the White House strategy for recapturing the Senate, enlarging the Republican's six-vote margin in the House and sharpening his differences with Democrats for the 2004 campaign.
So far the approach bodes well for the GOP, at least by one measure: Bush is raising an average of $1 million a week for Republican candidates and the party.
But the strategy is not without risks.
As the president engages increasingly in partisan politics -- and touts issues that may lack majority support -- his popularity could slip from its post-Sept. 11 highs, an erosion that already has begun. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll earlier this month found that 74 percent approve of his performance -- down from 82 percent in January.
"There's a natural deterioration over time in any president's ratings, absent boosting events, and some of that has happened," said University of Virginia political analysts Larry J. Sabato. "But mainly, Bush has now lost most of his momentum because events seem to be driving him, rather than Bush driving events."
Also behind the president's domestic push is his determination to avoid the mistakes of his father, the 41st president, who was thrown out of office after winning the Persian Gulf War because voters thought he was not attuned to pocketbook concerns.
Thus it's no accident that the current president has sought to avoid accusations of neglecting domestic issues.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.