WASHINGTON -- President Bush is embarking on an election-ending campaign tour designed to seal a historic midterm triumph for his party, even as Democrats accuse him of playing politics with the presidency.
The political heavy-lifting was beginning Thursday in South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson is battling Rep. John Thune in a bitter, expensive Senate race that looks like a proxy war between Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Bush personally lobbied Thune to run for the Senate in hopes of defeating Johnson, erasing the Democrat's one-vote majority and throwing Daschle from the Senate majority leader's office. But the race, like scores of others across the nation, is tight.
"The president thinks that if there was a different Senate, much more could be done for America," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
After a record-shattering year of fund raising, the president has gone around the country this election season to promote GOP candidates. He took a two-day break from the campaign trail this week, but was traveling Thursday to South Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia -- and intended to hit the road every day until Tuesday's midterm elections.
Even at the White House, amid tense negotiations with allies over potential war with Iraq, the president found time for politics. He strode into the stately East Room on Wednesday and accused Democratic senators of ringing up a "lousy record" on judicial nominations.
For weeks, Bush has made an issue out of Democratic reluctance to confirm his judicial nominees. He sought to bolster that argument by announcing a plan to hasten the confirmation process, though even White House aides acknowledged the proposal had little chance of being adopted.
Democrats, who balk at Bush's conservative judicial choices, accused the president of trying to create "a partisan campaign issue."
Democrats howled, too, at the site of a white tent set up on the rain-slicked White House driveway Wednesday.
Inside the big top, conservative talk radio hosts opened their microphones to a stream of top administration officials who offered the president's election-season take on the issues.
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri called it "appease-the-right-wing-day" at the White House.
Bush wants to break tradition and make midterm gains that deliver full control of Congress to the GOP, lowering Democratic roadblocks to his tax, homeland security, judicial and health care policies.
House Democrats, eight years out of power, need to gain seven seats to be assured of control. The Senate breakdown is 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, one independent and one vacancy -- created by Sen. Paul Wellstone's death in a plane crash in Minnesota.
Republicans account for 27 governors, to 21 for Democrats and two independents. Democrats expect to trim or even erase the GOP advantage in statehouses.
The party in power in the White House has lost House seats at every midterm election except three since Abraham Lincoln was president, and last gained Senate seats at a midterm election in 1982.
"The White House would like to defy history this year," Fleischer said.
South Dakota is political ground zero this election season. Beside the Johnson-Thune race, Gov. Bill Janklow is in a tight contest against Democrat Stephanie Herseth for a House seat.
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