Bush Hits Campaign Trail; Kerry Doesn't

President Bush gestures during a rally for the Republican party at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, Ga.,Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Bush headed west to stump for Republican candidates Thursday after reaffirming his confidence that the GOP will maintain control of both the Senate and House in next week's elections.

"I don't believe it's over until everybody votes," Mr. Bush said Wednesday in an Oval Office interview. "And I believe that people are concerned about the amount of taxes they pay, and I know many people are concerned about whether or not this country is secure against attack."

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports it's the final push by the president to keep Congress in Republican hands. His six days of zigzagging around the nation begins in Montana, where Sen. Conrad Burns is struggling to win re-election to a fourth term, facing attacks for accepting contributions from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Unlike some other GOP incumbents who are decidedly distancing themselves from Mr. Bush, his low approval ratings and his Iraq policy, Burns has asked for the president's help in getting out the vote in this state that twice helped put him in the White House.

Mr. Bush was also campaigning in Nevada on Thursday before spending the night in Missouri in advance of appearances there Friday.

Sen. John Kerry, meanwhile, Mr. Bush's opponent in the 2004 race for the White House, was regrouping a day after apologizing to service members for remarks that many interpreted as an insult to U.S. forces in Iraq — and which knocked him off the trail, at least temporarily.

Kerry had been campaigning actively for Democratic candidates coast-to-coast, but canceled appearances in three states after a furor generated by his remarks Monday evening at a California college.

The Massachusetts senator's future role in the run-up to next Tuesday's election was uncertain as Democratic Senate candidates from Montana to New York distanced themselves from his remark.

Rep. Harold Ford, seeking to win a Senate seat for Democrats in Tennessee, was among those calling for Kerry to apologize to the troops Wednesday a few hours before he did so.

Kerry apologized to "any service member, family member or American" offended by remarks deemed by Republicans and some Democrats alike to be insulting to U.S. forces in Iraq. Kerry has characterized the remarks as the result of a botched joke.

But six days before the election, he said he wanted to avoid becoming a distraction in the final days of the battle for control of Congress. He added he sincerely regretted that his words were "misinterpreted to imply anything negative about those in uniform."

In a brief statement, Kerry attacked the president for a "failed security policy." Yet his apology, issued after prominent Democrats had urged him to cancel public appearances, was designed to quell a controversy that party leaders feared would stall their drive for big gains on Nov. 7.

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll has good news for the Democrats. Asked about the House of Representatives, 52 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democrat running in their district and 34 percent said the Republican.

Forty percent of those polled said they were voting against President Bush, while just 14 percent said they were voting to support the president.

Read the complete CBS News poll results.
The poll showed Iraq is the most important issue in the coming election with nearly seven in 10 voters saying Mr. Bush does not have a plan for Iraq. The president's job approval rating remains at 34 percent.

Despite those numbers, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports the president is giving no ground on Iraq. He told the Associated Press Wednesday that he wants Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to stay on the job for the rest of his term.

Democrats are optimistic, convinced there's a national wave against President Bush and the war in Iraq, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. Republicans agree if this is a referendum on the president they are dead in the water. But they say they have spent tens of millions trying to make sure the election is not about Mr. Bush.

Democrats cringed at the prospect of Kerry becoming the face of the party for the second consecutive national campaign. "No one wants to have the 2004 election replayed," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., like Kerry, a potential contender for the 2008 nomination.

Congressional candidates in Iowa and Minnesota swiftly made plain that Kerry was no longer welcome to appear at scheduled rallies, and the senator scrapped an appearance in Philadelphia.

"It was a real dumb thing to say. He should say sorry," said Democrat Claire McCaskill, running in a tight Senate campaign in Missouri.

"Senator Kerry's apology to the troops for his insulting comments came late but it was the right thing to do," said Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary.

"Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words," Mr. Bush said in an interview with conservative talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

First lady Laura Bush, campaigning in Ohio, did not refer directly to the Kerry flap, but said Americans discussing the war in Iraq — especially politicians — should be careful what they say.

"Responsible candidates understand that the men and women of our military are risking their lives for us, and that we must conduct our debate here at home in a way that does not jeopardize our troops in harm's way," she said, calling for "conversations conducted with civility and respect."

Kerry stirred controversy when he told a group of California students that individuals who don't study hard and do their homework would likely "get stuck in Iraq." Aides said the senator had mistakenly dropped one word from his prepared remarks, which was originally written to say "you end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq." In that context, they said, it was clear Kerry was referring to Mr. Bush, not to the troops.

Democratic officials said the leaders of the party's campaign committees had relayed word to Kerry for him to avoid becoming a distraction.

Democrats have privately told outsiders they have locked up 10 of the 15 GOP-held seats they need and claim to be on track to defeat four Republican incumbents. They need to pick up six Senate senates to control that chamber.