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SUGAR LAND, Texas — President Bush has started campaigning on conservative staples such as judicial nominees, border security and defining marriage as between a man and a woman — themes that have been absent for most of the election season, but which he is now using to energize the party’s base.
At rallies drawing a combined 12,000 people in Georgia and Texas yesterday, Mr. Bush said Republicans have delivered on those issues and drew gigantic applause for both his defense of marriage and his promise to secure the borders.
“We will win this election because Republicans understand the values and priorities of the American people,” the president said as he visited two critical congressional districts.
The new themes are additions to tax cuts and the war in Iraq — the standards Mr. Bush has focused on for the past two months, and on which he said last week that the election will be a referendum.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said themes were added because Mr. Bush is speaking to different audiences at the rallies and said this stump speech will carry Mr. Bush through Election Day.
Until now, Mr. Bush had filled his schedule with fundraisers. He only went to his first rally of this election season, in Indiana, on Saturday, and then held two rallies yesterday — the second one, in Texas, complete with a fireworks send-off for Marine One, the president’s helicopter.
In that district, he was trying to help Republicans thread the needle by electing a write-in candidate to save the seat being vacated by former House Republican leader Tom DeLay. Earlier, in Georgia, the president rallied with Max Burns, a former congressman who lost re-election in 2004, but is in a tight race to reclaim his seat.
The Democratic National Committee said Mr. Bush’s late arrival on the rally circuit is a sign of his unpopularity.
“Clearly, President Bush is more of a liability than an asset as he’s forced to stump for candidates in districts that were once considered safe for Republicans,” DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said.
Mrs. Perino said Mr. Bush’s appearance at get-out-the-vote rallies can help conservative turnout in races that could be swung by several thousand ballots.
Mr. Bush had not mentioned immigration on the campaign trail until these rallies.
“For decades, we haven’t had complete control over our southern border, and illegal immigration has been on the rise. So I acted,” he said, touting increases in the U.S. Border Patrol and his deployment of National Guard troops to support them. “We will reform our immigration system, and we will uphold the immigration laws.”
Mr. Bush also returned to judges — a theme that Republican senators say was worth several percentage points in seats across the country in the 2002 and 2004 congressional races, but which had been absent on the stump.
“I believe I should continue to appoint judges who strictly interpret the law and not legislate from the bench,” he said. “America is better off because John Roberts and Sam Alito are serving on the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Only a handful of write-in candidates have won election to Congress, and the challenge is steep, even in this conservative district. Mr. DeLay’s name remains on the ballot, so Republicans are asking their voters to write in Houston City Council member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.
Republicans have made several maneuvers, including scheduling a special election to fill the empty seat for the final two months of this Congress, which means voters will see Mrs. Sekula-Gibbs’ name on at least one ballot.
Mr. Bush’s visit, following an earlier one by Vice President Dick Cheney, is designed to boost her name recognition so voters will remember to write her in.
One indication of the challenge is Mrs. Sekula-Gibbs’ name. She hyphenates it, but the most common electronic voting machine used in this district doesn’t allow a hyphen for a write-in, so she’s changed her Web site and campaign signs to drop the hyphen. Still, the legacy is tough to change — some of those at yesterday’s rally wore stickers with the name still hyphenated.
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