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The Invisible Man Of Campaign '08

By CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller
Not once this year has President Bush appeared in public at a campaign rally for the Republican Party or any of its candidates.

And on Tuesday night, when he attends a million dollar fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, it will be the last political event he does before Election Day.

Tuesday's event brings to 46 the number of GOP fund-raising events Mr. Bush has done this year, but nearly all have been of the stealth variety. All but four of them have been closed to press coverage.

It's a deliberate effort on the part of the White House, the Republican National Committee and the McCain Campaign to help Mr. Bush maintain a low political profile.

Even the four fund-raising events he did for McCain were off-limits to reporters.

Aides say Mr. Bush has accepted the fact that his approval ratings are in the cellar and no Republican candidates want him campaigning for them. Even Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who's engaged in a tough race for re-election to his U.S. seat from Kentucky, is willing to tell reporters that Mr. Bush is "deeply unpopular."

It's a point the White House does not dispute. "We're very aware of his approval rating," said Press Secretary Dana Perino, "but he's not about making decisions to be popular."

Not only is Mr. Bush invisible on the campaign trail, he is viewed as something of a political Kiss of Death. Democrats try to taint John McCain by saying his policies would amount to a third term for George Bush. And in recent days, McCain has expanded his efforts to distance himself from the incumbent by indignantly declaring: "I am not President Bush!"

Only once since McCain visited the White House on March 5 to receive the president's formal endorsement, have the two of them been seen together in a political context.

That was May 27, when Mr. Bush attended a campaign fund-raiser for McCain in Phoenix. It was closed to press coverage, but afterwards, the two men rode back to the airport together and were seen for a few seconds on the tarmac shaking hands and patting one another on the back before the president boarded Air Force One.

Since that day, Mr. Bush has been persona non grata for the McCain campaign - though he did do three more fund-raisers for his would-be Republican successor, all behind closed doors.

It makes it laughable what McCain said that day seven months ago in the Rose Garden with Mr. Bush: "I intend to have as much possible campaigning events together, as it is in keeping with the President's heavy schedule. And I look forward to that opportunity."

It might prove to be the biggest whopper McCain has uttered during his presidential campaign.

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