On Final Campaign Swing, Bush Visits Deep Red Territory

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

BILLINGS, Mont., Nov. 2 -- President Bush warned Thursday that a Democratic Senate would block many of his judicial nominees and never allow justices such as John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. onto the Supreme Court, a message intended to win back his restive conservative base.

Bush flew here to help Sen. Conrad Burns stage a comeback after trailing Democratic challenger Jon Tester for months. Republicans in Washington had given up on Burns, but as his poll numbers began ticking back up, the White House saw an opportunity to reverse the odds, a move that if successful would make it difficult for Democrats to recapture the Senate.

The visit to Montana opened a six-day, 10-state final campaign swing for the president as he left Washington for the last time until Tuesday's elections. From here, he headed to Elko, Nev., and planned to campaign Friday in Missouri for Sen. James M. Talent, who is locked in the nation's tightest Senate race. Bush also plans to hit friendly areas in Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Florida, Arkansas and Texas, where he will vote before returning to the White House to watch returns Tuesday.

A Republican president normally would not need to come to a conservative bastion such as Montana this close to an election, nor to Nevada's 2nd District, which has never voted for a Democrat since it was created in 1982. But Bush is playing defense in red-state territory and sticking to states that voted for him two years ago.

Although Bush's approval ratings remain mired in the high 30s, the White House believes he can still make a difference in traditionally Republican districts and states by energizing core supporters who otherwise might not be enthusiastic about voting. Many conservatives have been alienated because of concerns over rising federal spending, illegal immigration, the Iraq war, the House page scandal and other issues.

In two rallies Thursday, Bush used his appointment of judges to remind such voters that it makes a difference who controls the Senate. "If the people of Montana want good judges, judges who will not legislate from the bench, judges like John Roberts and Sam Alito, you vote for Conrad Burns for the United States Senate," Bush told an exuberant crowd of several thousand supporters in MetraPark Arena here.

At both stops, Bush said Democrats would raise taxes, weaken the battle against terrorists and surrender in Iraq. "We will never run from thugs and assassins," he told a smaller crowd gathered on an airport tarmac in Elko. Noting that Democrats have not produced a consensus position on Iraq, Bush added: "Harsh criticism and second guessing is not a plan."

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services and intelligence committees, called Bush "out of touch with Iraqi reality," citing an interview the president gave news services Wednesday in which he said he was "pleased with the progress we are making" and would keep Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for two more years.

"The president ought to take off those rose-colored glasses," Levin said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "The president is ignoring reality on the ground."

At his stops in Montana and Nevada, Bush avoided any discussion of scandals that have ensnared local candidates. Burns has endured criticism of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Rep. Jim Gibbons, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Nevada, was recently accused by a cocktail waitress of inappropriately touching her; he has said he grabbed her only to stop her from falling.

Even before that incident became public, Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller, the GOP candidate to replace Gibbons in the House, had faced a tough road in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 3 to 2. This was the second time Bush has come to campaign with Heller in the past month.

Staff writer Walter Pincus in Washington contributed to this report.

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