- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

MISHAWAKA, Ind. — President Bush waded into the 2006 political campaign yesterday by telling Republican supporters in Indiana that he makes every decision with an eye to preventing a terrorist attack.

Even as he faces congressional criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for his administration’s approval of a ports terminal operations deal, Mr. Bush did not shy away from a national security message.

“I wish I could report to you that the war on terror was over, but it’s not,” he said at a lunch reception to raise money for second-term Republican Rep. Chris Chocola, who represents northwestern Indiana. “These are serious times that require serious thought and serious purpose in order to do our most important duty, which is to protect the American people.”

Republican strategists want national security to be a central issue in the 2006 congressional elections, but Mr. Bush portrayed himself as a reluctant war fighter.

“I wish I wasn’t talking about war,” Mr. Bush said. “No president ever says, ‘Gosh, I hope there’s war.’ For those of you who are young here, I want you to know what I’m leading to is how to keep the peace and do my job that you expect me to do, which is to prevent the enemy from attacking again.”

In his 30-minute remarks, Mr. Bush didn’t mention the political firestorm in Washington over his administration’s approval of the bid by a company from the United Arab Emirates to buy a British firm that operates terminals at six U.S. ports.

Republicans and Democrats alike have urged Mr. Bush to postpone the deal, which would become final March 2. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has said he would introduce a bill to delay the sale, prompting a veto threat from Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush learned of the deal from his staff after his administration had approved it, but he has defended it as the right move.

In a Cabinet meeting before he left for the campaign trip, he said the details of the deal will prove it is not a security risk. “The more people learn about the transaction that has been scrutinized and approved by my government, the more they’ll be comforted that our ports will be secure,” he said.

Mr. Chocola expected to raise $600,000 from his event. Republican Party sources said a later fundraiser in a Cincinnati suburb for Sen. Mike DeWine would raise more than $1 million.

Neither Mr. Chocola or Mr. DeWine has taken a public position on the ports deal, their spokesmen said.

Democrats said Mr. Bush has lost “political capital” from the port security issue, coming on the heels of the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

“It is no wonder Republican lawmakers are turning their backs on President Bush. They finally realized what the American public already knows: The truth is President Bush’s policies have made America less safe,” said Karen Finney, communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Republican House and Senate campaign operatives said they aren’t seeing any sign the ports issue is affecting fundraising, nor have they heard of anyone worried about campaigning with Mr. Bush because of the issue.

Ed Patru, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the issue isn’t having any effect at all on campaigns and in some instances is giving candidates a chance to show their independence. White House spokeswoman Dana Perion said, “We are getting daily requests for the president to participate in campaign events.”

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