Bush Prepares for Heart of Campaign Season

President Bush isn't on the ballot this year, but he has a great deal at stake in upcoming elections, especially the races for the House and Senate. He'll be on the road a lot between now and November with a series of speeches focusing on the war on terrorism.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In an election year, Labor Day usually opens the fall campaign season for candidate for offices all over the country. One well-known name that is not on the ballot this year is President Bush, but he certainly has a great deal at stake in this year's midterm elections, especially the races for the House and Senate.

As a result, the president will be spending a lot of time on the road between now and November, campaigning as hard, if not harder, than any other candidate. NPR's Don Gonyea covers the White House and joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us, Don.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Glad to be here.

SIMON: And give us some sense of what the White House plans for the next couple of weeks.

GONYEA: A lot of it is really a campaign to win back public approval of his presidency. No news here, but the polls have been down for over a year, and to really try to regain some leverage and all the things that come with better poll numbers.

He's got a series of speeches - highly-promoted speeches I might add - planned between now and mid-September. The war on terror will be the topic, how critical success in Iraq is as part of that overall battle. Also in the midst of this, he'll be commemorating the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. That's just over a week away.

And he's going to bring all of these themes together in a big speech to the United Nations in just about two weeks.

SIMON: Clearly public dissatisfaction, I think we can safely say, with the course of the war in Iraq and the occupation, has been responsible for a lot of that plummet of the popularity rating. Do you have any sense the White House is planning a new line of argument to present to the American people?

GONYEA: First, here's what's the same, 'cause much of it is the same. We still get the stay the course message, we still get Iraq is that central front in the broader war on terror.

But there is a shift we've been starting to notice. He's unable these days to say as much as he's said in the past about containing the violence or limiting it to areas around Baghdad. Now we've got a new Pentagon report to Congress. It just came out yesterday. It says sectarian violence is spreading beyond Baghdad and outward, that the number of Iraqi civilians killed each month is way up, increasing by 1,000 a month.

So what the president seems to be doing more of is instead to just put the choice in very stark terms, that the U.S. has to stay there because of how bad it would be, how catastrophic it would be, if the U.S. pulled out prematurely.

And neither the president nor any other administration officials really give much credence to critics of the war at all. They say they may be well intentioned, but they are wrong. The way the White House is proceeding is the right way. We're going to hear a lot of that.

SIMON: The president will be making a lot of appearances. Will he be campaigning side by side with a lot of Republican candidates for office?

GONYEA: It depends who it is. It depends where it is. In places where the president remains popular, he's there on the stage posing for pictures with candidates. A lot of times, though, they just want him to come privately and help the candidate raise money. So the president does a lot of closed fundraisers.

SIMON: Remind us of the political stakes of what were to happen if either the Senate or the House were to come under control of the Democratic Party during the last two years of the President's administration, at a time when he would be seeking to secure a legacy.

GONYEA: We would see a great deal more oversight. We could see investigations, Congressional hearings. At the very least, we would see the president being forced to negotiate in a real way with Democrats.

SIMON: NPR's Don Gonyea. Thank you.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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