Bush Works to Solidify Base With a Defense of Rumsfeld

Published: November 2, 2006

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — With less than a week before the election, President Bush sought to rally Republican voters on Wednesday with a vigorous defense of the war in Iraq and a vow to keep Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in office until the end of Mr. Bush’s term.

Mr. Bush appeared on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, whose audience is a reservoir of conservative voters, to criticize Democrats as lacking a plan for victory in Iraq. (Mr. Bush, where is your plan?)

Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also spent another day going after Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee two years ago, for remarks that Republicans say insulted the intelligence of American troops in Iraq.

“Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words,” Mr. Bush said, “and our troops deserve the full support of people in government.”

Mr. Kerry said in a statement issued on Wednesday by his office that his “poorly stated joke at a rally was not about and never intended to refer to any troop.”

As Mr. Bush worked to solidify his base, Democratic and Republican Party committees were making some of their final moves on the electoral chessboard. The Republican Senate committee reported spending nearly $1 million on television advertisements in Maryland and more than $800,000 in Michigan. The Senate seats in those states are held by Democrats and have generally been considered safe, but the investments by Republicans suggested a hope of making them competitive.

Democrats sought to expand the contest for the Senate as well by buying air time in Arizona to rattle, if not defeat, Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican thought to be headed for relatively easy re-election. Democratic officials would not disclose how much they were spending.

Mr. Bush, in an interview with wire service reporters on Wednesday, said he intended to keep Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and Mr. Cheney in the vice presidency until he leaves office in 2009. Both are controversial figures, even among some Republicans, but they are also popular with conservatives who form the foundation of Mr. Bush’s political and electoral strategy.

With polls showing a majority of Americans unhappy with the course of the war and many Republican candidates distancing themselves from Mr. Bush on it, the White House was taking a gamble on making Iraq the central subject of discussion in the final week of the campaign. His embrace of Mr. Rumsfeld carried particular risk, since some Republican candidates have joined nearly all Democrats in seeking his dismissal.

Democrats responded to the Republicans’ efforts with new advertisements accusing Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld of botching the war and making the United States less safe. A television spot from the Democratic Congressional committee said, “The White House is in denial as top generals warn that Iraq may be sliding into full-scale civil war.”

A veterans group released an advertisement on Wednesday in which Iraq war veterans and Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who is retired and who was a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, criticize the war. “Because of Iraq, there are more terrorists in the world,” one veteran says.

Democrats also criticized Representative John A. Boehner, the No. 2 Republican in the House, as seeming to shift responsibility for problems in Iraq from Secretary Rumsfeld to the uniformed military.

“Let’s not blame what’s happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview on CNN on Wednesday afternoon. “But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president.”

Seeking to a draw a parallel to the flap over Mr. Kerry’s comments, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, demanded that Mr. Boehner apologize to the generals.

“John Boehner ought to be ashamed,” Mr. Reid said in a statement. “He’s blaming our troops for failures in Iraq.”

Republican leaders hoped to buck up morale among conservative Christians, a normally reliable source of Republican votes. A sizeable number of such so-called values voters have told pollsters that they are unhappy with Mr. Bush and the Republican-led Congress and might stay home on Election Day or vote for Democrats.

(Oh Dobson, now there's an immoral Christian.)
James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and an influential voice among evangelical Christian voters, said on his radio program this week that Democrats and the news media were trying to suppress the conservative vote by reporting on unhappiness among evangelicals.

Mr. Dobson also warned that a Democratic takeover of Congress would bring “crippling setbacks in the battles against abortion and gay marriage.”

In recent days, Mr. Bush and his surrogates have sought to rally Republicans by raising the specter of what they call unreconstructed liberal Democrats leading powerful committees if the Democrats regain control of Congress. Mr. Cheney took aim at one of them, Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, who is in line to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax laws.

Mr. Cheney said late last week that Mr. Rangel knew nothing about the American economy and would raise taxes as soon as he took over the committee.

Mr. Rangel responded by using a profanity to question Mr. Cheney’s parentage. He said in an interview Wednesday that he was sorry for his choice of words, but not for the thought. He said he hoped that if the Democrats won control of Congress the nasty language on both sides would cease.

“I can take a political shot,” Mr. Rangel said. “But my family and friends and constituents deserve better from the vice president of the United States.”