President Bush was asked twice last week about Sen. Barack Obama. In response, Bush never used the Democratic presidential candidate's name.
As it turns out, Bush has uttered Obama's name only a handful of times since the senator from Illinois began running for the White House last year, according to a review of his public statements and appearances by Washington Post researcher Madonna Lebling.
The last prominent reference came during a joke at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in April, when Bush quipped that "Senator Obama" was unable to attend because he was "at church." It was a reference to the candidate's troubles with his controversial former minister.
During a fundraising speech in Michigan last month, Bush launched a detailed attack on Obama's policies -- but never uttered his name during the 20-minute address.
Then at a news conference Tuesday, Bush responded to a reporter's question about Obama's plans for a Middle East trip by referring to "whoever goes there" and "whatever elected official goes there." Asked later about Obama's criticism of his Iraq policy, Bush said he is "loath to respond to a particular presidential candidate," and then responded without using the Democrat's name.
Not surprisingly, Bush has no such reluctance when it comes to his own party's presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain. The president has frequently referred to McCain by name, and continues to crisscross the country raising money for McCain and other Republican candidates.
White House spokesman Scott M. Stanzel said Bush shies away from naming Obama because he does not want to be drawn into the thick of the presidential campaign. At the same time, he said, Bush strongly supports McCain.
"Mentioning the candidate he's been very publicly supporting is different than criticizing that person's opponent," Stanzel said. "He has no desire to become pundit-in-chief."
But Maliki Knows Who He Is
Speaking of Obama, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave the candidate a boost over the weekend by telling Der Spiegel magazine that he supports the Democrat's plan for a 16-month phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. Then someone in the White House press office mistakenly gave Obama another boost, distributing a story about Maliki's interview to the lengthy press e-mail list.
"Reuters -- Iraqi PM backs Obama troop exit plan -- magazine," the e-mail's subject line read.
Stanzel, the White House spokesman, said the story was meant to be distributed internally and not as commentary one way or the other.
The mixup came after the White House announced Friday that it had agreed with Maliki to set a "general time horizon" for U.S. troop withdrawal.