RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In recent weeks, President Bush has seen his poll numbers slip to the lowest levels of his presidency. Support for his proposals on Social Security remained weak, and a growing number of Americans want to at least begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. The president has long maintained he pays no attention to the polls, and he sticks to a very familiar schedule. Yesterday, he held another event to talk about Social Security, showing no outward sign of concern. Of course, as NPR's David Greene reports, when the president travels, he rarely comes face to face with his critics.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Here in an area of central Pennsylvania long called Happy Valley, throngs of people were lined up to get into the auditorium at Penn State University.
Unidentified Woman #1: I think I would sell my left kidney for air conditioning right now.
Unidentified Woman #2: ...(Unintelligible) similar.
Unidentified Man #1: Oh, our air condition is we open our freezer and put a fan in front of it.
Unidentified Woman #1: Nope, that actually makes the room hotter.
Unidentified Man #1: Why?
GREENE: But other than the stifling heat, there were few complaints from a crowd consisting mostly of Bush supporters. They were members of the FFA, the group formally known as Future Farmers of America, and local residents who were able to get their hands on tickets to the invitation-only event.
Ms. MONICA SMITH (Student, Penn State University): A friend of ours, their cousin, got tickets for us because he works for the Secret Service. That's how we got here.
GREENE: Monica Smith is a rising junior at Penn State. She says she's not worried at all about the president's drop in the polls.
Ms. SMITH: I think it's just, like, one of those times in the presidency where there's just a lot of tough stuff going on with, like, the economy and Social Security, and the war is still going on after two years. So I think those worry people a lot, but, I mean, I think he's doing great.
GREENE: Mark Campolongo was also having no trouble getting in. The local contractor said he scored a ticket through the FAA and couldn't wait to hear the president. Recent violence in Iraq worries some Americans, he said, and that's causing some to lose confidence in the president.
Mr. MARK CAMPOLONGO: Well, he's getting beaten up in the media. I mean, you know, you get that constant drama of, you know, lost soldiers which just--you know, you just can't hear that every day, every day, every day without, you know, getting some slippage in the poll numbers, but, you know, he has to look at the bigger picture and what's important and what's going to make us ultimately safer as a country.
GREENE: Inside the auditorium, the air was cooler and the crowd calm, controlled. Commanders in chief are typically kept away from any protesters, and the Bush White House has been especially effective at screening them out. As Mr. Bush arrived, the full-throated welcome was earnest and emotional.
Unidentified Man #4: It is my honor to introduce to you, our commander in chief, the 43rd president of the United States of America, George W. Bush.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: The president could scarcely feel doubt in that space, but outside the auditorium, maybe the length of a football field from the entrance, Bob Dylan was blaring from a boom box.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Singing) He plays with my world.
GREENE: About a hundred protesters were sweating, admiring each other's protest signs and reading them out loud.
Unidentified Woman #3: `Bush's Social Security plan is a big rotten tomato.'
GREENE: Police guarded the perimeter to keep protesters away, but it was possible to get through with a ticket, and some who were heading to the auditorium seemed caught between the two worlds. Mark McFaul, a local drug and alcohol counselor, was heading in to see Mr. Bush. A past supporter of the president, he was asked whether he still approved.
Mr. MARK McFAUL (Drug and Alcohol Counselor): I would say yes, certainly with some caveats, but I would say.
GREENE: What are the caveats?
Mr. McFAUL: The war itself. I think my anxiety level is raising slightly with it, although I'm not sure we're seeing a whole picture. I have a brother-in-law that's a Marine, and what he's been stating as opposed to what I'm hearing from other sources seems to be diametrically opposed.
GREENE: McFaul said he's also wavering on the president's Social Security plan. He wants the program to be solvent but opposes private investment accounts. Doubts among voters like McFaul may explain the president's recent loss of political momentum, and where these voters go in the next few months could make the difference for many of the president's policies as well as his poll numbers.
David Greene, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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