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President Bush Maintains Low Profile Ahead of Tuesday's Election


In the final days of the presidential campaign, Americans have been flooded with messages from John McCain and Barack Obama. One person who has maintained a conspicuously low profile is the man both candidates hope to replace: President Bush. Far from providing a boost to fellow-Republican McCain, Mr. Bush is widely viewed as having a detrimental effect on the Arizona senator's chances of winning the election, due to his record-low public approval ratings, a troubled economy and a war effort in Iraq that has lasted more than five years. Monday, the White House acknowledged President Bush's unpopularity while restating Mr. Bush's support for Senator McCain. VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

As a rule, outgoing presidents hit the campaign trail in support of their party's presidential nominee. But not this year. President Bush did not attend the Republican National Convention in September, and has not appeared in public with Senator McCain since then.

Not that Mr. Bush has been forgotten. On the campaign trial, Democrat Barack Obama has spoken about President Bush almost as much as John McCain - and sought to link the two.

"John McCain has ridden shotgun [alongside] as George Bush has driven our economy towards a cliff," Obama said. "And now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas."

Far from defending the president, McCain has protested the Illinois senator's suggestion that he and Mr. Bush are political bedfellows.

"I am not George Bush, McCain said. "If Senator Obama wanted to run against George Bush, he should have run for president four years ago."

That comment from the campaign trail stands in sharp contrast to McCain's assertion in March, when he appeared with the president at the White House after it became clear he would win the Republican presidential nomination.

"I intend to have as much [many] possible campaigning events together [with Mr. Bush] as is in keeping with the president's heavy schedule," he said.

In fact, McCain has not shied from criticizing President Bush on his handling of the economy. In a television advertisement, McCain noted that "The last eight years have not worked very well, have they?"

Asked about being shunned by both presidential aspirants, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Bush understands today's political climate.

"We are realistic about the political environment that we are in," she said. "We are also cognizant that the Republican Party wanted to make this election about John McCain. And that is appropriate."

Perino acknowledged the American people's desire for change, but said President Bush has remained true to his ideals while confronting difficult challenges. She dismissed any suggestion that Mr. Bush is resentful of McCain's criticism of the president.

"Everybody would like to be popular. We can all remember that back in high school," she said. "Everyone really wanted to be popular, and some of us just were not. We are supporting this candidate [McCain] and trying to be respectful of what they [Republicans] have thought is the best way to run their campaign."

It is not at all clear that the McCain campaign welcomes Perino's comments, coming one day before the election. Last week, Vice President Cheney voiced his support for McCain - an endorsement that was immediately picked up by the Obama campaign and used in a television advertisement attacking the Arizona senator.

Perino says President Bush will remain in the White House Tuesday to watch election returns. Mr. Bush is expected to congratulate the winner once final results are known.

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