President Bush Campaigns in Texas

President Bush held a rally in Sugar Land, Texas, on Monday night in the district once held by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush is campaigning this week in Georgia and Texas. Despite his low approval ratings, he's hoping to help Republicans locked in tight races. And yesterday, he turned up in Sugar Land, Texas. NPR's Luke Burbank was there.

LUKE BURBANK: Say you were a Republican president with an approval rating hovering in the high 30s. And say you were facing the prospect of a Democratic takeover of Congress. And say some members of your own party were even politely asking you not to campaign for them. Well, it's safe to say you'd probably be ready for some home cooking, too.

(Soundbite of cheering)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I always feel better when I'm in Texas.

BURBANK: Last night, an energetic President Bush showed up at an airline hangar in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. If that name rings a bell it's because Sugar Land is the former home or Republican Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful members of Congress, that is before alleged ties to Jack Abramoff and some other scandals took him down.

Now Republicans are hoping that Shelley Sekula-Gibbs can help them keep that House seat, and the president showed up to do his part.

President BUSH: I thank you for joining me in saying loud and clear to the people of the 22nd Congressional District, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is the right person to serve you in the United States Congress.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BURBANK: Sekula-Gibbs, a dermatologist and three-term member of the Houston City Council, faces a challenge not just in getting voters to support her but getting them to do so in the correct fashion. Because Sekula-Gibbs was a last-minute replacement for DeLay, voters will have to write her in, painstakingly using a letter wheel to spell out S-H-E-L-L-E-Y space S-E-K-U-L-A hyphen G-I-B-B-S.

Despite that challenge and gloomy poll numbers from many in his party, the president stood by his prediction that Democrats will not prevail come Election Day.

President BUSH: In 2004, some of them were measuring the drapes in the West Wing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President BUSH: They had their office suites all picked out, except their problems was the movers weren't needed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: If the president is having popularity problems, it sure wasn't evident last night. Thousands of people wore huge buttons with his face on them and cheered with red and blue pompoms whenever he made a point.

Outside, though, things were a little different, at least riding in Christine Fuentes'(ph) slightly ratty Lexus sedan. She'd come to protest the president but couldn't find parking. So instead she was ferrying other protestors to and from the event and having some run-ins with Sugar Land's finest.

Ms. CHRISTINE FUENTES (Democratic Protestor): And I was sitting in the median and the police came up beside me to say, what's going on. And I had to tell him that I dropped my cell phone.

BURBANK: Which isn't really a great story, considering you have one of those earpieces in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FUENTES: I know, the guy didn't say anything.

BURBANK: The protestors Fuentes was dropping off joined a group of may be 25 or so standing on the airport's lawn. They held signs with slogans like, Commander in Thief. But this night at least they were very much in the minority. Most of the people in attendance, like Roy Maddox of Katy, Texas, were standing by their man, Mr. Bush.

Mr. ROY MADDOX(ph) (Bush Supporter): We understand him. We know the way he thinks and we know what he's doing. And we're not ashamed to say we're with him and the Dixie Chicks can move to England and stay there. All right? And we're disappointed to say they're from Texas.

BURBANK: It was a perfect fall night in Texas, save for the giant mosquitoes. As the president's helicopter left, a series of fireworks erupted. His supporters, looking excited, slowly filed out, turning off their car alarms which had been set off by the explosions.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Luke Burbank, NPR News, Sugar Land.

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