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Another Top Bush Aide Makes an Exit

By Michael A. Fletcher
Monday, May 28, 2007

As the Bush administration inches closer to its concluding months, more top aides are headed out to the private sector. Sara M. Taylor, the White House political director and microtargeting guru who has been with George W. Bush from the outset of his first presidential campaign, is the latest staff member to leave the president's employ.

Taylor, 32, was one of the first people put on the payroll of the Bush campaign, trekking through snowy Washington to interview with Karl Rove and Bush, who was then governor of Texas. Taylor worked on the 2000 campaign, and later became a political aide in the White House.

In 2004, she worked on Bush's reelection campaign, where she helped refine the emerging political art of microtargeting. Working with Alex Gage of TargetPoint Consulting, Taylor was among those who helped use sophisticated analysis of consumer data to enable the Bush campaign to target potential voters even when they resided in Democratic-leaning voting districts.

The campaign developed lists of potentially sympathetic voters, based in part on computer analysis of people's spending habits. Those voters were then targeted for direct mail and other advertising. The data-mining techniques are credited with giving Republicans a decisive turnout advantage in the 2004 election; they are now commonly practiced by Democrats as well.

Some analysts projected that the GOP's precision turnout expertise would allow the party to build an enduring majority. But given the results of the 2006 midterm election, which gave Democrats control of Congress, that has not proved to be the case.

Taylor cleared out her office early last week. She plans to take her skills to the private sector, where the pay will no doubt be better than the $137,000 she earned in 2006 as a deputy assistant to the president. "I haven't decided on anything," Taylor said. "I'm looking at a handful of different options."

She says she plans to take off six weeks before going to her new job. And, she says, whatever happens, she is determined not to sign up with any of the 2008 presidential candidates. "I have avoided all temptations to go back into the campaign," she said. "I've done three presidentials; I think that is enough."

Taylor's departure leaves a big hole in the White House's political operation, as the administration works with an often hostile Congress to push for policy changes including immigration reform, energy initiatives and renewal of the president's signature education accountability law. "She did a very superb job in every role she has been called on," said Rove, Bush's chief political strategist. "It is a big loss for us."

He said a replacement for Taylor should be announced this week.

Taylor is the latest top Bush aide to leave in recent weeks. Earlier this month, deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch II announced plans to step down. His departure followed that of Meghan O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Only 20 months to go.

On the Ranch, Diplomacy Without a Seat Belt

The White House invited the press corps to the president's sprawling Texas ranch last week, hoping to have us catch a glimpse of an orchestrated moment of down-home presidential diplomacy. The stage was set with the president and Laura Bush waiting in his white Ford F-250 pickup as the Marine helicopter bearing NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and his wife, Jeannine, touched down on the ranch's landing pad.

As the helicopter's rotors slowed, the Bushes slowly approached in the truck. Dressed casually, they hopped out to greet the guests who were in town to discuss issues of great import to the alliance: the precarious situation in Afghanistan, Russian objections to a missile defense system in Europe and Russian resistance to expanding NATO.

Moments later, the guests were loaded into the truck's cab and Bush was back at the wheel to lead them on a tour of the ranch he calls "a little slice of heaven." He cruised slowly past the assembled cameras and scribes, smiling and waving. But rather than pickup truck diplomacy, what the cameras caught was that Bush was not wearing his seat belt.

It was a small enough offense -- and not a legal one, since Texas's mandatory seat-belt laws don't apply on private property. But as luck would have it for the president, it occurred just before the start of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual "Click It or Ticket" seat-belt campaign. And that was enough to elevate it into the news.

Back in Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow seemed a touch exasperated when asked about the president's usual policy regarding wearing seat belts, either when driving his pickup or riding in the presidential limousine. Snow said he has seen Bush use his seat belt, but he couldn't say that the president always did.

"It's always important to wear seat belts, especially when driving slowly on the ranch," Snow said, eliciting laughter from the press corps. "But I think it's, in point of fact, something that -- we encourage everybody to wear their seat belts."

Quote of the Week

During a Rose Garden news conference on Thursday, President Bush was asked by New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg why Osama bin Laden is still at large. Bush responded:

"Why is he at large? Because we haven't got him yet, Jim. That's why. And he's hiding, and we're looking, and we will continue to look until we bring him to justice. We've brought a lot of his buddies to justice, but not him. That's why he's still at large. He's not out there traipsing around, he's not leading many parades, however. He's not out feeding the hungry. He's isolated, trying to kill people to achieve his objective."

Today marks the debut of the At the White House column for this page. Al Kamen's "In The Loop" column will continue on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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