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Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch ...

By CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller

When it comes to the president, one phrase the White House hates to use is: "On vacation."

It conjures up an unflattering image of a chief executive with his feet up and the phone off the hook - ignoring the responsibilities of his office.

Of course, it's a myth. American presidents these days can get away from the Oval Office, but not its responsibilities. The burdens of the job follow him wherever he goes - including his ranch in central Texas.

A CBS News tally shows that President Bush is now making his 38th visit to his Prairie Chapel ranch since taking office. Add up the number of full or partial days he has been there - it comes out to 254.

That's about 20 percent of his presidency. Add in his time at Camp David and the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the percentage more than doubles. And the White House is self-conscious about it.

The Democratic National Committee loves to needle Mr. Bush about the time spent at his ranch.

A DNC press release this week carried the headline: "George W. Bush: Taking Vacation, Not Responsibility."

The White House regards the swipe as a cheap shot - but still avoids using the word "vacation."

Spokesman Scott McClellan prefers to describe the president's latest ranch visit as "a little bit of down time prior to the final home stretch of the campaign."

Despite the oppressive Texas heat in August, Mr. Bush loves to work and recreate at his ranch. He cuts wood, clears brush and has recently taken up Mountain Biking - though he took a spill a few months back at the end of a 17-mile ride on the rocky roads of his ranch.

The president will also use this visit to work on the acceptance speech he'll deliver to the Republican National Convention in two weeks.

But spokesman McClellan is quick to point out that Mr. Bush also tends to official business while at the ranch.

The White House points out that even at his ranch, the president receives a daily national security briefing - and can confer with top aides back at the White House by way of a secure video hookup.

Often top aides, including Chief of Staff Andrew Card and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice join Mr. Bush at his ranch.

Mr Bush also conducts diplomacy at Prairie Chapel - and since taking office -has hosted 11 foreign leaders there. Just last week, he expressed his gratitude for the political support of Sen. John McCain, by having him spend the night at the ranch.

Though its definitely worth noting how much time Mr Bush spends at his ranch - it's unfair to say it's all vacation. It's certainly a vacation atmosphere - and gives him the chance to do things he cannot do at the White House, such as drive his pickup truck.

In every administration the question is raised: does the president take too much vacation? But would the nation be better off if he took less?

And doesn't the president need to recharge his batteries like anybody else?

It's not the amount of George Bush's vacation time that John Kerry is running against. Or the president's work habits. It's his decisions and policies.

The vacation issue is a sideshow - usually reserved for slow news days.

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