The Red-State Revue, Starring G.W. Bush

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 4, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 3 -- The Gatlin Brothers finished singing, and Larry Gatlin took the microphone to warm up the crowd for his old friend from West Texas. A little red meat never hurt a few days before an election. "I tell ya what," Gatlin told thousands of cheering Republicans, "we're gonna git Osama!"

Instead of Special Forces, though, out onto the stage bounded Louie the Cardinal and Fetch the Dog, presumably to keep the audience entertained for a few more minutes rather than to hunt down the world's most dangerous terrorist. After the Springfield Cardinals mascots finished handing out T-shirts, the loudspeakers blasted out that well-known Republican anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It," by Twisted Sister.

As he crisscrosses Red America in the last campaign that will directly affect his administration, President Bush isn't gonna take it either, or at least he isn't gonna take it lying down. With pollsters and pundits declaring his Republican Party all but out of power in the House and in danger of losing the Senate in Tuesday's elections, Bush has embarked on a final 10-state blitz to save his congressional majorities -- and essentially the remainder of his presidency.

He has shucked the coat and tie for shirtsleeves and slipped a little more drawl into his voice as he hits mainly conservative, rural communities. "It's good to be in a part of the country where the cowboy hats outnumber the ties," Bush told thousands of supporters in Billings, Mont., on Thursday, squeezing in a rally just two days before the MetraPark Arena's scheduled "Spay-Neuter Clinic."

And he seems fired up by flag-waving crowds that greet him as a rock star, with young women screaming for him to come shake hands, even if elitists in Washington have written him off. He would love nothing more than to prove all the prog-naw-sti-ka-tors and phil-ah-suh-phi-zers wrong, and score another against-the-odds victory.

"That's not the first time they've been forecasting elections," Bush said here in a line that has become a favorite in recent days. "You might remember in 2004, some of the folks in Washington listened to the prognosticators and they started picking out their offices in the West Wing. And then it turned out the people went to the polls, and the movers weren't needed."

So he jets to Montana, Nevada, Missouri, Iowa and the dwindling number of places that will have him in a possibly quixotic quest to repeat history, warning the Republican faithful that, no matter how much they deny it, Democrats will raise their taxes and lose the battle against terrorists. It is a message that resonates in the partisan audiences that hear it.

"Tell it like it is!" one man called out here.

"Attaboy, George!" another yelled.

If Bush is worried, he does not let on. Nor does his top strategist, Karl Rove, who, just as he did in the final stretch before the 2004 election, has made a point in the past few days of appearing jovial and carefree. Wearing a Cheshire cat grin and the same green tie with greyhounds two days in a row, he playfully teased the traveling media, mocking David Gregory's pocket handkerchief and stuffing pieces of white paper in the jacket pockets of other reporters so they would match the NBC correspondent.

Though he did not offer any commentary on the elections, in a conference call with business executives this week Rove outlined five reasons he thinks Republicans will hold Congress, according to a participant: incumbency, more money, better get-out-the-vote organization, the intensity of GOP voters and favorable territory where competitive races are being fought out.

Rove said he was particularly worried about three or four House seats in Indiana and House seats in New York for which top-of-the-ticket Democrats are headed for huge victories, according to the participant. But Rove was optimistic about holding the Florida seat of Republican Mark Foley, who resigned amid a House page scandal, and disparaged Democratic turnout efforts as "sporadic and episodic."

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