On Campaign Trail, Bush Praises Saddam Verdict

President Bush hailed Saddam Hussein's death sentence Sunday, saying it's a milestone in Iraq's effort to stabilize the country. Mr. Bush spoke about Iraq's former leader as he made several campaign stops.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Bush spent the weekend traveling, and his schedule was such that he saw little opposition to him or to the war in Iraq. The president is working to keep his party in control on Congress, and in a moment we'll have analysis from Cokie Roberts.

We begin with NPR's David Greene, who is traveling with the president.

DAVID GREENE: With Tuesday's midterm elections approaching, the president's party is in a fight for its life. But yesterday, Mr. Bush seemed very far from the action. He woke up at his ranch in central Texas, celebrated his 29th wedding anniversary with the first lady, then went to the airport where he caught up with reporters. He said he was pleased to learn that Saddam Hussein was given the death sentence in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq has a lot of work ahead as it builds its society that delivers equal justice and protects all its citizens, and history will record today's judgment as an important achievement on the path to a free and just and unified society.

GREENE: Then the president hit the campaign trail, setting off for Nebraska and then Kansas.

Professor BOB BEATTY (Professor of Political Science, Washburn University): There's no question that President Bush should not be coming to places like Kansas.

GREENE: So says political scientist Bob Beatty from Washburn University in Topeka. Kansas, and Nebraska for that matter, are very red states that Mr. Bush won handily in 2004. But there are some Republican House candidates in far closer races than they ever expected. White House officials said the president, by coming to rally voters, was hoping to save his party from spending last-minute money on races they never thought they'd have to invest in. But the itinerary was also convenient for Mr. Bush. His poll numbers are low, and there are few places where he can avoid protesters and be guaranteed a warm reception. One such place, Prof. Beatty said before the president landed, is Topeka.

Prof. BEATTY: He's going to go into an arena. He's going to have 8,000 true devotees that are going to cheer their heads off. And, you know, he's going to love it. He's going to feel great.

(Soundbite of song "Right Now")

Unidentified Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, give a warm Kansas welcome to the President of the United States.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: Mr. Bush told this very friendly crowd not to be alarmed by all the predictions that his party is going to suffer losses on Tuesday.

Pres. BUSH: We're heading for the finish line and we're asking for your help. Whatever you do, don't pay attention to the prognosticators.

(Soundbite of booing)

Pres. BUSH: The pundits. They've - a bunch of them have already decided that the verdict's in. But they forgot that the folks in Kansas haven't got to the polls yet.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: The people of Kansas might not play such a huge role in which party controls Congress. After all, the person the president was stumping for, Congressman Jim Ryun, was expected to hold his seat all along, and Republicans have been focused on tighter races elsewhere in the country.

But the president was focused on this audience in Kansas, warning them that Democrats are determined to do away with the tax cuts he championed. If Democrats are in power, he said, they'll likely change the child tax credit from $1,000 to $500. The president spent some time on the subject.

Pres. BUSH: Anybody here got four kids?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. BUSH: Yeah? I'll use you as an example. There you are at the table. You got five? Okay, well, five. Okay, so you've got five kids. So when you get home, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times 500. That's $2,500. That's your tax increase if you vote Democrat.

GREENE: Now Democrats have said they plan to keep most tax cuts in place. That didn't seem important to the president, though, as he worked his crowd.

Last night, Mr. Bush returned to his ranch in Crawford. He'll be campaigning again today with a stop planned in Pensacola, Florida. One person who reportedly won't be with the president is Charlie Crist, the Republican running for Florida governor. He was planning to target parts of the state that he views as more important in the governor's race than Pensacola, where the president has decided to appear.

David Greene, NPR News, Waco, Texas.

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