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The president’s ‘secret weapon’
WEST ALLIS, Wis. — She’s never in a bad mood, says one member of her Secret Service detail.
She’s “cordial,” Robert Haugh says, putting away the silverware on the blue-and-white C-9 Air Force jet that has been home to the first lady and her 22-year-old twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, for the past few weeks.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” Mr. Haugh says of Laura Bush, who may prove to be the real “October surprise” of the 2004 presidential campaign.
She is described by President Bush as his “secret weapon” and by daughter Jenna as “a role model for women across the country.”
Her chestnut hair perfectly coifed, her gray suede pumps unscuffed and understated, her pastel blue coat and paisley shawl comfortably stylish, the 58-year-old former schoolteacher has been deployed by the Bush campaign to do what she does best: Make undecided voters fall in love with her.
Take Jeanne Richter, a 77-year-old registered Democrat who is a resident of the Village at Manor Park, where Mrs. Bush made her last solo appearance before joining her husband for the last week of the campaign. Mrs. Richter, who said she was “wavering,” is now leaning toward voting for Mr. Bush.
“She’s seems to be a wonderful lady,” the Wisconsin woman said.
Mrs. Richter says Mrs. Bush is a better first lady than Teresa Heinz Kerry would be. “No doubt about it in my mind. … [Mrs. Bush] was absolutely wonderful, and I’m so happy I took the time to come down and hear her personally. Sometimes when you read things, that’s one thing. It’s informative, yes. But seeing her in person makes you think a little bit deeper.”
The president’s wife and daughters spent last week wooing voters like Mrs. Richter in their “W Stands For Women” tour, so named for the president’s middle initial. An all-day trek through New Hampshire on Thursday was followed by a quick trip to Wisconsin, and then on to Ohio and Florida, visiting church suppers and firehouses.
“We’ve been all over the place this week,” Jenna says in her Texas drawl. “We started out in Las Vegas on Sunday. Because of the change in time zones, Barbara and I were lying awake last night until 2 in the morning.”
Mr. Bush joked last week that he had promised his daughters a camping trip, and it turned out to be the 2004 campaign instead. Wearing a vanilla embroidered coat by favorite designer Lela Rose, Jenna says, “We’re exhausted.”
The president has said he promised his wife when he proposed to her that she would never have to make a political speech, but as Jenna told a small rally of Republican women in New Hampshire, “Wrong family, mom.”
In the past month, the first lady delivered 30 political speeches, mostly to women and seniors. And Mrs. Bush is enormously popular — a Gallup poll showed her with a 74 percent approval rating, more than 20 percentage points better than her husband’s rating.
The first lady stays on message: Tax relief. Childhood education. No military draft. The war on terrorism. Women starting their own small businesses. Nothing ruffles her regal bearing.
“She’s a source of inspiration to countless women,” says actress Angie Harmon, also stumping for Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign. “I have such great respect for the job she’s doing.”
By Brahma Chellaney
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