- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush planned to spend today stumping for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky and Mississippi, hoping to end years of Democratic control there in Tuesday’s elections.

If Republicans manage to win both states and retain control of Louisiana, Mr. Bush will head into the 2004 election with Republican governorships in 29 states, including the four largest. Victories also would cement the president’s reputation, first gained in the 2002 midterm elections, as a formidable campaigner for fellow Republicans.

“The president has an incredible capacity to excite Republican voters and a lot of voters in the middle,” said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). “He unites Republicans in a way that I haven’t seen in our party since Ronald Reagan.”

To capitalize on that ability, Mr. Bush will make two appearances today on behalf of Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Ernie Fletcher.

“The Republicans in Kentucky are very concerned about this race, as evidenced by their call for Mr. Bush to come back in right before the election to try to bolster their voters,” said Barbara Hadley Smith, spokeswoman for Mr. Fletcher’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Ben Chandler.

Some Kentucky Democrats have attempted to weaken Mr. Fletcher by linking him to the president’s economic policies. But the Chandler campaign, mindful of Mr. Bush’s popularity in Kentucky, is now trying to limit those attacks to Mr. Fletcher’s policies.

“Some have misinterpreted that as going after the president and setting up a referendum on President Bush,” Mrs. Smith said. “That has not been Ben Chandler’s purpose.”

She added: “We respect the president’s office; he’s always welcome to visit Kentucky. But in the final analysis the vote that comes out of Tuesday is going to focus on which person is better able to represent Kentucky.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan suggested voters in both Kentucky and Mississippi will be motivated by a combination of state and national issues.

“Obviously candidates run on their own credentials and their own agenda,” he told reporters near the president’s ranch here. “But these are candidates that share many of the president’s priorities and they share his compassionate conservative philosophy for the country.”

Some national Democrats and journalists have warned that a Republican loss in Kentucky would be interpreted as a sign of weakness for Mr. Bush as he heads into his own re-election campaign next year. But the latest polls showed Mr. Fletcher ahead by nine points even before today’s two presidential appearances.

Although the race is closer in Mississippi, a new Mason-Dixon Polling and Research survey showed Mr. Barbour leading by four points, with 9 percent of likely voters still undecided. The president, who campaigned for Mr. Barbour on Sept. 12, hopes to win over most of those undecideds with two additional appearances today.

“In terms of the president’s ability to go in and campaign for somebody, it is obviously a positive effect or we wouldn’t see him going in two stops in each of those places,” Mr. Gillespie said.

The president has no public plans yet to travel to Louisiana and campaign for his former assistant secretary of health and human services, Bobby Jindal. But Mr. McClellan yesterday expressed the president’s “support for Bobby Jindal in that race.”

Both Mr. Jindal and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, failed to win a majority of the vote in Louisiana’s Oct. 4 election, forcing a runoff on Nov. 15. Many political observers consider the race too close to call.

Mr. Bush easily won Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi in 2000 and expects to carry them again next year, regardless of whether they are governed by Republicans. Still, he has decided to risk a fair amount of political capital by becoming personally involved in the campaigns.

“Kentucky and Mississippi are trending Republican, even though they’ve had Democratic governors for some time,” Mr. Gillespie said.

But he added: “We always would rather have a Republican governor than not.”

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