Focusing on the clutch of battleground states that are expected to decide this year’s presidential election, senior White House and administration officials fanned out through the convention hall and hotels this week in a bid to fortify Republican resolve in advance of the fall campaign.
The posse has included all but the small handful of Cabinet secretaries who are restricted by tradition from overt partisanship. Included too have been a cluster of top advisers such as Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Margaret Spelling, who runs the president’s policy shop.
The visits supplement the already lavish attention paid to the battleground states by the Bush-Cheney campaign.
“Basically, we’ve had the whole top of the ticket,” Ohio Sen. George Voinovich said, citing visits by such figures as Rove and Ken Mehlman, the Bush-Cheney campaign manager.
“The biggest issue [they raise] is that Ohio is front and center” in this election, Voinovich said. “They’re doing their best to indoctrinate us, saying that you have to work hard [and] that they need our help. This is a little difficult for some people, but we’ve got to go home and get to work if we want this president re-elected, and that’s what they’re saying.”
Ohio’s delegation, as well as those from Florida and Pennsylvania, seem to have received the greatest attention from Bush’s Cabinet and inner circle.
But the full picture is unclear. Although administration officials generally brought staff with them from Washington, neither the White House nor most of the Cabinet departments would provide information regarding itineraries. They indicated such information would have to be retrieved from convention officials or the delegations themselves, because of the political nature of the visits.
Convention officials said they could provide no comprehensive information about the schedules for administration officials.
Anthony Principi, the Veterans Affairs secretary, said he participated in only one formal event this week — a breakfast on Monday with the Pennsylvania delegation — before flying off to accompany President Bush to an appearance on Tuesday before the American Legion in Nashville.
On Wednesday, Principi was back in New York, where he was corralled for impromptu sessions with the delegations from Alaska and Arizona. He said the meetings he’s had at the convention have served to reinforce messages that even delegates may not be hearing at home.
“I’m just trying to explain to them the things we’ve done to meet the needs of our veterans,” Principi said, as he shuttled between sit-downs with talk radio hosts in the convention hall on Wednesday. “Some are not aware of [the administration’s record on veterans]. They talk about budget cuts, and maybe don’t know how much we’ve done to actually increase the money available for our veterans.”
Another Cabinet official making the rounds is Commerce Secretary Don Evans. His itinerary has included visits with at least six state delegations, including those from the electoral battlegrounds Arizona, Missouri and Oregon.
Evans has been a popular draw in part because of his tight friendship with Bush, which provides delegates with the sense that they are learning something unique and intimate about their candidate. But an Evans aide indicated that the secretary views the delegation visits as a reward for people who have stood strongly behind the president.
“These delegates come from across the country, giving their time and spending a lot of money to be here,” the aide said. “I think it’s natural for the administration to go around and thank these people for their hard work and their participation in the political process.”
The anticipated importance of a handful of states to the outcome of November’s election has provided delegates from those battlegrounds with a comprehensive picture of the campaign that has not been fully available to others. The delegates from the battleground states have received regular briefings on tactics, as well as inside assessments of the electoral landscape.
“They’ve offered Florida delegates lots of updates on strategy,” said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). “We are getting enormous attention from the administration.”
It doesn’t stop with the administration. Delegations from battleground states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which will be key in choosing the party’s presidential nominee in 2008, also have played host to their share of party luminaries, including such possible presidential aspirants as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Meeting with the New Hampshire delegation on Tuesday, Frist, who recently visited the state, nonetheless insisted that he’s fully focused on Bush’s aspirations.
“Why was I in New Hampshire? I was in New Hampshire really for one reason: because you are a battleground state,” Frist told the delegates. “I was there for the same reason the president of the United States was in Nashua yesterday and the same reason that he has been back many, many times — that is, because New Hampshire is important.”
It is important, Frist added, “because you will in many ways make the final determination of whether or not this president is re-elected or not.”
Mark Preston contributed to this report.