The White House is billing this as fish-or-cut-bait week for United Nations delegates debating an Iraq resolution, but President Bush's last-minute campaigning won't be in New York. It'll be in places like Alamogordo, N.M.
Bush returned to the Republican campaign trail this afternoon after taking a 2 1/2-day break to try to persuade Pacific Rim heads of state to pressure North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, and to try to build support for a U.N. resolution spelling out immediate consequences for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if he fails to give weapons inspectors the run of his country.
Both questions have momentous consequences for the future of Bush's presidency, to say nothing of peace in Asia and the Middle East. Partly as a negotiating tactic aimed at recalcitrant allies, White House aides signaled over the weekend that they are preparing to lose the U.N. battle and begin assembling their own coalition for confronting Hussein. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said ominously on Saturday, "We have to make a few fundamental decisions in the early part of next week and go forward."
With concrete progress eluding the White House, Bush appeared testy during much of his 28-hour stay at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting at the tip of Baja California in Los Cabos, Mexico.
During a brief question-and-answer session with Mexican President Vicente Fox, Bush broke protocol by cutting off the interpreter trying to provide the English version of Fox's answer for viewers around the world. "I know what he said," snapped Bush, whose aides say he is not fluent in Spanish.
Bush detests what he views as empty ceremony, and guests at an APEC banquet Saturday night said he looked impatient -- although he appeared blissful as he jogged on the beach in a sweaty white T-shirt this morning. Bush had been scheduled to eat lunch Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Putin was unable to come because of the hostage crisis in Moscow, Bush did not schedule anything else and stayed in his hotel suite.
Bush left diplomacy behind today as he flew to Phoenix for the friendlier climes of a Republican rally at a packed downtown theater, where his anti-terrorist gibes drew standing ovations. Riot police kept the antiwar protesters out of his sight. He is scheduled to visit at least 16 more states in the week before Nov. 5, when a few races will decide control of the House and Senate.
The war on terrorism has not distracted Bush from breaking President Bill Clinton's record for campaign money raised in a year, and this month's North Korean crisis has not disrupted Bush's political travel schedule. Bush's aides suggested as the season began that he would make, at most, 40 political trips. But as crucial races remained nip-and-tuck, he throttled up the barnstorming and now will make more than 70 appearances.
A White House official said the communications gear and national security aides aboard Air Force One allow him to run the war from anywhere. "The perception is something we talk about but don't worry about," the official said.
Political scientists said the prolific campaigning carries risks for Bush and may lead voters to wonder who is minding the store. "Presidents have gotten good at compartmentalizing," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent analyst. "With Bush trying to rally the country around a possible war and rally the world around his foreign policy, it's trickier."
Bush will speak Monday at rallies in New Mexico and Colorado. He will be in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday, then will travel to South Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia on Thursday. His aides said he will campaign Friday in the Northeast.
His stop on Halloween is a get-out-the-vote rally in Aberdeen for Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is struggling to unseat Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in a marquee race that has become a proxy for the Pennsylvania Avenue clashes between Bush and Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).
Aberdeen is Daschle's home town.