- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - President Bush focused on the gentler side of his agenda Wednesday, promoting education and cheering up sick children.

Less than three weeks to the election, Bush’s interest in the country’s youngest citizens came during a base-building trip to North Carolina, a state he won easily in both his presidential races. But even in the conservative South, many voters have grown unhappy with the president’s leadership as violence reigns in Iraq.

Bush didn’t mention those troubles in his public remarks, but turned on the charm during a visit to a barbecue restaurant and classes at Waldo C. Falkener Elementary School. He greeted lunchtime dinners at Stamey’s, chatting into a cell phone that one man thrust into his hand. Then he ate a classic North Carolina lunch of barbecue pork and chicken.

Noticeably missing on Bush’s North Carolina itinerary were campaign stops with Reps. Charles Taylor and Robin Hayes, a pair of veteran Republicans facing spirited Democratic challenges that could help tip the balance of power in the House. He didn’t go near their districts. Bush was to attend a fundraising dinner for the Republican National Committee at a private residence where no media coverage was allowed.

Rep. Howard Coble, who represents the district that includes the children’s camp, told the News-Record of Greensboro this week that he wasn’t sure what the political value of the visit would be.

“I’m not uncomfortable having him here,” Coble told the News-Record of Greensboro. “I don’t know that it helps. But it doesn’t hurt and it might help. There are a lot of his supporters who are simply not happy with Iraq. I’m not happy about it. But that doesn’t mean I dislike my president.”

At the school, Bush drew excited gasps from fifth grader Ta’kyria Woodard when he entered her class, and he leaned over and whispered in her ear to calm her. Then he went to the third grade computer lab and threw a presidential glare to silence some rambunctious boys. Turning to the cameras, Bush said, “Reminds me of my days in the class.”

Bush’s speech in the school’s multipurpose room was the third event in as many weeks focusing on the classroom. Those speeches come as a series of school shootings in recent weeks have unnerved parents across the nation.

Bush’s signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, is up for reauthorization next year. Congressional Democrats helped hand him a bipartisan victory with that law five years ago. But the politics have changed and a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill could make it tougher for Bush to get the law reapproved without increased funding and other work.

Bush said the school is an example of why No Child Left Behind should be renewed. He said the percentage of third graders reading at grade level increased from 46 percent to 76 percent in four years.

“I think it would be a huge mistake for the United States Congress not to reauthorize this important piece of legislation,” Bush said. “And the reason I say that is because it’s working. We have achieved concrete results.”

Later, Bush visited Victory Junction Gang Camp for critically ill children. The camp was created by NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, in memory of their son Adam. Adam Petty was killed six years ago in a racetrack crash at age 19.

An Elon University poll last month showed a recent rise in Bush’s approval rating in the state, but more people - 48.5 percent to 45.2 percent - said they disapproved of the president’s performance.

While Bush has expressed complete confidence that Republicans will keep control Congress, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that the GOP will hold the Senate and has “a good shot at holding the House.”

Snow said any suggestion that Cheney’s confidence has diminished was “over-parsing.”

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