- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

SELLERSBURG, Ind. — President Bush yesterday yelled himself hoarse in his first public political rally of the 2006 election campaign, whipping thousands of supporters into chants of “USA!” as he criticized Democrats for being weak on national security and anxious to increase taxes.

Swooping into a Republican stronghold that on Election Day will be an early harbinger of whether Republicans hold control of Congress, Mr. Bush led the crowd in a chant that gave new meaning to an old Reagan-era slogan.

“The Democrats in Washington follow a simple philosophy: Just say no,” the president said.

“When it comes to listening in on the terrorists, what’s the Democratic answer? Just say no. When it comes to detaining terrorists, what’s the Democrat answer?” Mr. Bush asked.

“Just say no!” the crowd shouted.

“So when the Democrats ask for your vote on Nov. 7, what are you going to say?”

“Just say no!” the audience replied.

With just nine days to go before the midterm elections, the White House has settled on a simple strategy: Turn out the base.

Yesterday’s rally in the Ohio River Valley was aimed at boosting Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel, who is in a tough re-election battle with former Rep. Baron Hill. It was the first of Mr. Bush’s nearly 90 political events this season that was open to the public. The latest poll shows Mr. Hill opening up a double-digit lead on Mr. Sodrel, who won the seat in 2004 by fewer than 1,500 votes. The president beat Sen. John Kerry in 2004 with 59 percent of the vote in this southern Indiana district.

Mr. Bush has spent the past few weeks visiting other districts he won handily in 2004, but where Republican candidates are struggling to hold on to conservative voters.

Last week, Mr. Bush raised funds for a Republican in Sarasota, Fla., where the president beat Sen. John Kerry by a 13-point margin in 2004. Even though Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in the district, the party’s candidate, car salesman Vern Buchanan, trails his opponent by 11 points in the latest poll.

The White House views a handful of races along the borders of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio as pivotal to holding control of the House.

“The Ohio River Valley is the problem,” a senior administration official said last week on the condition of anonymity. “I think we’ve got three seats really at risk.”

Rep. John Hostettler, an incumbent whose district is in the southwestern part of Indiana, is trailing by seven points in the most recent poll. Several candidates in Ohio, including Rep. Steve Chabot, whose district borders Kentucky, are locked in tossup battles.

In Kentucky, another handful of races in districts along the river could determine who controls Congress. Rep. Anne M. Northup, who recently split with the president by calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is in a tossup race. Rep. Geoff Davis, the Republican running in a district that in 2004 delivered a 27-point victory for Mr. Bush, cannot pull away from his opponent, former Rep. Ken Lucas.

“If we lose three and [zero], it’s going to be a very close-run thing, but we’ll probably keep the House. …That is to say, lose two or three in Indiana and lose none in Kentucky,” the administration official said. “If it’s two and [zero], we’ll keep the House. If it’s two and one, it’s going to be a very close-run thing.”

The White House knows the stakes in the Ohio River Valley: First lady Laura Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush and House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, have all made recent visits to Clark County, Ind. Press secretary Tony Snow drops into nearby Jeffersonville tomorrow.

Yesterday’s presidential visit to Clark County, the first since Lyndon B. Johnson stopped here in 1964 to dedicate a post office, sent this tiny town into a tizzy. Residents lined the streets awaiting the motorcade, and businesses along Indiana Avenue posted “Welcome President Bush” signs.

The 4,000 supporters packed into a high school gymnasium remained on their feet throughout the president’s 33-minute speech. They booed whenever Mr. Bush mentioned Democrats such as “the member from California, the ranking leader, the minority leader in the House, who wants to be the speaker ….”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, he said, claims to “love tax cuts.”

“Given her record, she must be a secret admirer,” he said. Ticking off a list of votes the San Francisco liberal has cast against tax cuts, he broke the crowd up when he leaned into the microphone and shouted: “If this is the Democrats’ idea of love, I wouldn’t want to see what hate looks like.”

Afterward, as the crowd filed out of Silver Creek High School, David Blocker of Elizabeth, Ind., said he “loved the speech.”

The owner of a trucking company, who was wearing a shirt that said, “W — Still the President,” said he supports Mr. Bush’s war on terrorism.

But Annette Dailey, a part-time UPS worker, said she will cast her vote against Mr. Sodrel, based on the president’s Iraq policy.

“I’ve got three little boys, and I’d really like to see us get out of the role of being the world’s bully,” she said inside the family room of her home, which bore a yard sign for Mr. Hill. “I’m worried that 15 years from now, when they’re of age, we’re still going to be at war. I’d like for us to get back to where we take care of our own country first.”

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