- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Bush, who has been in the middle of every presidential election for the past 20 years, has not been seen in public in the four days leading up to the 2008 election, except for a pair of brief walks to and from his helicopter.

It is an unfamiliar position for the Texan. He has been cut off from the energy and excitement of the campaign, after two decades at the center of the storm every election season.

The last election in which he was not a campaign strategist, elected official or candidate was 1984, when he was working as an oil executive. In 1988 and 1992, he worked on his father’s campaigns. He was governor of Texas in 1996 and was a presidential candidate in the past two elections.

Furthermore, Mr. Bush has been separated from first lady Laura Bush for the past few days.

Mrs. Bush, unlike her husband, has high favorability ratings. On Monday, her third day away from her husband, she was speaking on behalf of Republican candidates at a rally in Kentucky.

“I’m really looking forward to Election Day, partly because it seems like George has been on the ticket this entire year,” Mrs. Bush said at her appearance in Shepherdsville, Ky.

If it seems that way to Mrs. Bush, that’s because Democrat Barack Obama has pounded the message that a vote for Republican John McCain is a vote for another four years of Mr. Bush’s policies.

To reduce the effectiveness of this tactic, the president had curtailed his public campaigning, canceling appearances with congressional candidates in recent weeks. He has appeared in public only twice with Mr. McCain since endorsing him in April.

As Election Day approached, the president reduced his visibility and essentially eliminated his presence on TV news.

“Look, we are realistic about the political environment that we are in,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday. “We are also cognizant that this campaign, the Republican Party wanted to make this election about John McCain.”

Mr. Obama noticed that one of his favorite targets had been removed from view. During a campaign rally Saturday in Pueblo, Colo., Mr. Obama talked instead about Vice President Dick Cheney, who had campaigned for the McCain-Palin ticket earlier that day in Wyoming.

“President Bush is sitting out the last few days before the election,” Mr. Obama said. “But earlier today, Dick Cheney came out of his undisclosed location and hit the campaign trail. He said that he is, and I quote, ‘delighted to support John McCain.’”

“I´d like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endorsement because he really earned it,” Mr. Obama crowed.

The White House has said little about how Mr. Bush regards his confinement, but the president showed his yearning for interaction with regular folks on Sunday when he returned to the White House after a 48-hour stay at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Instead of walking directly from Marine One to the White House, as he usually does, the president worked the rope line, shaking hands and taking pictures with the White House guests who had come to watch his arrival.

On Monday, Mrs. Perino said that “everybody would like to be popular” but that Mr. Bush has “done big things.”

“And often when you do big things and you make tough decisions, they’re not popular,” she said.

So as Mrs. Bush stumped in Kentucky, Mr. Bush remained at the White House with no public events on his schedule.

The president is expected to stay away from the public eye on Election Day. Mr. and Mrs. Bush voted by absentee ballot more than a week ago, rather than returning to Texas to cast their votes in person.

“The president and Mrs. Bush will be having a small dinner up in the residence [Tuesday] evening,” Mrs. Perino said.

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