- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — The White House has thrown its power players into this southeast corner of Indiana, deemed by senior political strategist Karl Rove as ground zero in the 2006 congressional elections.

In just the last two weeks, President Bush held his first political rally of the season just up the road in Sellersburg, and Vice President Dick Cheney, first lady Laura Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman have all dropped by. But this week, the White House called in its big gun — Tony Snow.

In a tiny hall at 300 Spring St. — on a quintessential small-town thoroughfare where the town’s children paraded yesterday in their Halloween costumes — the White House press secretary serenaded a room full of plump men and blue-haired women, offering his unique brand of rosy optimism, eagerly lapped up by the local Republican activists.

“This is an election about big challenges and high ideals, and all I want to say is, thank you so much for being part of it, and I hope that I’ve given you a little more hope to realize that,” Mr. Snow said as he paced the stage like a TV talk-show host. “But I need your help: Can I count on it?” The roomful of people burst into applause and shouts of “Yes.”

The former Fox News Channel personality and conservative commentator is adored in “red” America, where he brings swoons. With his telegenic good looks and seamless charm, Mr. Snow is even more popular than his boss, who has been shunned by some Republicans and has attended fewer fundraisers than his more popular wife in recent weeks.

It was a point that Democratic National Committee spokesman Stacie Paxton quickly made.

“President Bush obviously remains a liability for Republicans. Maybe someone should remind Tony Snow that the first rule of PR is to not get better press than your boss,” she said.

Even though Mr. Snow arrived here more than an hour late, all who had packed into the room — including those who had driven an hour or more for the luncheon — stayed, despite local Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel’s filling the gap by talking nonstop.

“Oooh, we just love him,” cooed Lowetta Jenkins, of nearby Clarksville, Ind., stretching out the word “love.” “He was very positive, upbeat. He presents the president’s message so well.”

The day Mr. Snow stopped in Jeffersonville, he first hit a fundraiser upstate for Indiana Republican Rep. Chris Chocola, also locked in a tight race. He then flew on to St. Louis for a chat with activists working to re-elect Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, tied with his opponent in the most recent polls. In all, he will do about 15 events on this trip, including his last, tonight for Maryland Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, the state’s lieutenant governor.

When Mr. Snow announced last month that he would hit the campaign trail for the president and his party — the first press secretary to raise funds for his boss — he assured White House reporters he would serve up no “red meat.” He was, for the most part, true to his word Monday, although he did get a jab or two in at Democrats, college professors and even the French.

“This election is about the difference between a president who says, ‘I am going to do everything I can to do my job right, including thinking about the future,’ and a Democratic Party that has made a calculated political gamble to say nothing about the matters that count,” he said. “Ask yourself the following question: Why would you hire somebody if they’re not going to tell you what they’re going to do?”

Segueing into Iran, with a declaration that “Iran loves America,” he said: “Let me just put it this way: The Iranian public is more pro-American that just about any college faculty in the United States.” Big applause from the conservative core.

On democracy, he throws in a barb sure to draw a cheer from the partisan throng of about 250. “Democracies are just not a pain in the neck — except, upon occasion, the French.” A big laugh, then whoops of applause.

Throughout his hourlong talk and question-and-answer session — the luncheon cost $25 to attend, but another $100 for a picture with the star — Mr. Snow kept it personal, mentioning his battle with colon cancer, his three small children and his ineptness with his IPod. “My daughter programs mine,” he said.

Even though he answered a question about his future by saying he simply doesn’t know what he’ll do next, he dismissed a small sign that read “Tony Snow — 2008.”

“I didn’t think they served alcohol that early,” he said.

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