- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

The White House is implementing a simple strategy to regain control of the Senate in November: Dispatch an extremely popular president to support Republican candidates in states he won or nearly won in 2000.
Top political advisers in the Bush administration are focusing on five states: Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa and Georgia. Mr. Bush won three of those states in the last election. He lost the other two each of which has a vulnerable senator up for re-election by slim margins.
Since his election, Mr. Bush has made 15 trips to the five battleground states, as well as six trips to North Carolina, where Elizabeth Dole seeks to replace retiring Sen. Jesse Helms. He makes his fifth trip to Missouri today.
"One of the things we try to do at the political shop in the White House is we try to recruit and identify candidates and provide them advice and counsel," said White House political director Ken Mehlman.
President Lyndon B. Johnson once said each Air Force One landing means 20,000 votes for the president's party from that state's voters. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sees even more power for the popular president.
"The Bush presidency has now had six months at 80 percent or more approval, and that begins to move him a significant step toward the FDR league. We've had presidents spike before for 60 or 90 days, but there's a stable sense that this is the right guy doing the right things in the right way that's very broad," Mr. Gingrich said in an interview.
"I think it reflects an underlying shift in the country that was already under way before September 11 but was very dramatically accentuated on September 11. And I think that the president in that sense in his policy, his personal style and his personality all three is creating a space into which the Republican Party could potentially grow, just as in the '30s the Democrats grew into the space that FDR created," he said.
Mr. Bush has attended 15 fund-raisers since taking office nine of those since the September 11 terrorist attacks. He hopes to restore Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, to the majority post he lost in May when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont defected from the Republican Party to become an independent. That move put the Senate under the control of Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
The White House is targeting Mr. Daschle's home state, where Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson is viewed as vulnerable to three-term Rep. John Thune who won his last two elections with 75 percent of the vote. Mr. Bush personally persuaded Mr. Thune to run for the seat.
Mr. Johnson, a first-term senator, took just 51 percent of the state's vote in 1996 a state in which Mr. Bush garnered 60 percent to Vice President Al Gore's 38 percent in 2000.
Mr. Gingrich said Mr. Daschle is marginalizing himself by divisive tactics, such as criticizing the war effort and blocking Mr. Bush's judicial nominations.
"This is a country where there are about twice as many self-identified conservatives as liberals, and if you start saying in Missouri, for example, and in Georgia, that if you're a conservative that means the Democrats won't allow you to become a judge, I think that makes re-election for the swing Democrats in the Senate much harder," the Georgia Republican said.
The president also has his eyes on a Senate seat in Minnesota, where Republican Norm Coleman, a former Democratic mayor of St. Paul who has switched to the Republican Party, is running against one of the Senate's most liberal members, Sen. Paul Wellstone who has broken a pledge not to seek a third term.
Mr. Bush also has made several trips to Georgia, where Rep. Saxby Chambliss is running against incumbent Sen. Max Cleland who took just 49 percent of the vote in 1996. The president, on the other hand, won Georgia by a 12-percentage point margin in 2000.
The prospects for November are promising, Mr. Gingrich said: "You go down a list of states where it's not at all implausible that they could retake control of the Senate."
The power of the presidency can be illustrated by a stop this month in Minnesota by Mr. Bush. A brief appearance at a fund-raiser for Mr. Coleman brought in $2 million and considerably raised the profile of the candidate.
"That is a huge lift to us," said Ben Whitney, Coleman campaign manager. "We'd raised half as much money as Wellstone up to that point. That is directly attributable to the president."
Tennessee will be interesting as well. Republican Sen. Fred Thompson announced last week he is not seeking re-election. Former presidential candidate Republican Lamar Alexander has declared his candidacy. Mr. Gore lost the state's 11 electoral votes in 2000, and his wife, Tipper Gore, yesterday said she would not seek the Democratic nomination.


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