-- President Bush drew laughter on the campaign trail recently when he saluted a Republican candidate because he "believes in family values -- all 12 of them."
Bush wasn't adding a couple of commandments for good measure. His audience of local party members knew he was needling Rick Renzi, who has pulled ahead in his race for a new House seat in rural Arizona, for his status as father of a dozen children, ages 2 to 22.
With only a week of campaigning left before the elections, Bush's stump speech has turned increasingly light and personal, as he slathers on the honey for Republicans he barely knows and spices his centrist-sounding platform with down-home appeals.
Matt Salmon, 44, the Republican running for Arizona governor, is "old man Salmon" or "old Matt." Bush describes him as being the sort who won't change his mind "when the butane gets turned up."
Political scientists say presidential popularity rarely transfers, but Bush is trying. "Here's what I believe -- here's what Steve knows," he said as he appeared here with GOP House candidate Steve Pearce, 54, who became "old Steve Pearce" later in the speech.
"Steve understands that," Bush added several times, ticking through the administration agenda. He thanked Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.), a candidate for governor, for starting a business, and says he's "looking forward to working with Bob" to bring federal dollars to faith-based state programs.
"I appreciate so very much Elizabeth's focus on education," he said of Elizabeth Dole, who is running to succeed Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) "I share the same focus."
Likewise, Bush offers his national platform as the solution for local problems. "I know there is concern about what they call 'urban sprawl' here in Colorado," he said today in traffic-choked Denver. The solution, he said, is abolishing the estate tax so farmers and ranchers won't be "forced to sell their property before they want to."
The meat, and even the order, of Bush's message varies little from stop to stop, with about 17 more rallies to go before Election Day. The speeches average 34 minutes and touch on education, tax cuts, Medicare, terrorists, Saddam Hussein, homeland security, the courage of the passengers aboard the hijacked plane that ran into the Pennsylvania soil, and the "incredible good" that can come from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because of the spirit they awoke in America.
In the homestretch, all that is wrapped in local references. "I love to come to a part of the country where the cowboy hat, instead of the tie, is part of the work uniform," Bush said as he revved up a pompom-waving crowd on a soccer field in New Mexico this morning. "It kind of reminds me of home -- right around the corner from here."
As Bush gets closer to his ranch, his speech bursts out in Southernisms like "right quick," "fixing to" and "get-go." The Texan compliments Colorado as "this big state," and told voters here that "every day is a beautiful day in New Mexico."
Bush includes references to Medicare, jobs and education to help protect his candidates against Democratic platforms, which are heavy on domestic issues in an effort to blunt the Republican advantage on national security. Bush's radio address on Saturday touted bills he had signed to expand community health centers and help bring medical devices to market. In Washington on Tuesday, he will hold a signing ceremony for the election reform bill, which his schedule lists as "the Martin Luther King Jr. Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2002."
On the road, Bush's final-days message is aimed largely at encouraging the most loyal Republican voters -- "the base," in political parlance -- to work hard for campaigns and turn out on Nov. 5.
"Go to your coffee shops and your places of worship and community centers and remind people that in America they have a duty to vote," he says time and again. "We love the idea of our fellow Americans being able to worship an Almighty God any way you see fit."