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Bush, Democrats Hit Campaign Trail

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Bush, Democrats hit campaign trail

Oct. 31 -- Laying out his campaign strategy, Senate candidate Walter Mondale said Thursday he'd debate his adversary after first visiting Minnesota communities. "My opponent has been campaigning for six years,'' he said. "I have been out here 12 hours.''

NBC NEWS AND NEWS SERVICES

Oct. 31 — With just five days before Election Day, President Bush and candidates across the nation hit the campaign trail Thursday, seeking to influence a midterm election that could tip the balance of power in Congress. The president will visit 15 states before Tuesday’s vote, working to buck the tradition that the party in the White House loses congressional seats in midterm voting.

BUSH ON Thursday was stumping for candidates in South Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia before moving on to a long weekend that ends with the president voting in his home state of Texas on Tuesday.

“The White House would like to defy history this year,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in describing the president’s goals for the road trip. “Historically, the party in power traditionally loses large number of seats in the Congress in its first (mid-term election). By all indications, that trend may be broken this cycle.”

Democrats control the Senate by only one seat, while Republicans have a 15-seat majority in the House.

Bush’s final, grueling sprint, mapped out by political strategist Karl Rove, will have him stumping in 15 states in five days — with two visits to South Dakota — by the time he touches down at his Texas ranch after dinnertime Monday.

Aides said Bush was already complaining about the late nights expected of him, and his grumbling spilled into the open before the audience at his first stop Thursday, in Aberdeen, S.D.

“Next time you get me to come back, let’s go pheasant hunting,” Bush suggested to much approval. “I can’t go today. I got to work. I’m traveling the country.”

Bush campaigned at the Aberdeen stop for Rep. John Thune, who’s running for the Senate seat held by Sen. Tim Johnson.

The race looks like a proxy war between Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

In a speech to party faithful, Bush complained that the Senate had done a “lousy job” because it failed to approve his choices for federal judgeships, and accused Democrats of holding up his proposed Department of Homeland Security.

Bush personally lobbied Thune to run in hopes of defeating Johnson, erasing the Democrats’ one-vote majority and throwing Daschle from the Senate majority leader’s office. But the race, like many others across the nation, is tight.

The president moved on Thursday to South Bend, Ind., for a rally in yet another close race, the House contest between former Democratic Rep. Jill Long Thompson, 50, and Republican businessman Chris Chocola, 40.

The race in the redrawn 2nd District — Indiana’s congressional delegation was pared to nine from 10 by the last U.S. Census — is considered one of the closest in the country and has been marked by accusations of mudslinging and dirty tactics.

“There are some discerning Democrats who live up here, people who know the difference between a shrill voice and a solid voice,” Bush said as he touted Chocola. “You got a good man running for the United States Congress. If it helps, you tell them the president wants him standing by his side in Washington, D.C.”

Later Thursday, Bush was going to West Virginia, where GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is a narrow favorite in a rematch with Jim Humphreys.

MINNESOTA RACE

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, for his part, is carrying the torch for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone in a race seen as key to which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Democrats have found momentum in Minnesota, where party elder Mondale began a five-day Senate race by saying his past experience in the Senate will give the state a stronger presence if he’s elected.

Mondale also said he’d debate his adversary, Norm Coleman, after first holding town hall meetings to speak about the economy, the environment, “big money” in politics and international issues. “My opponent has been campaigning for six years,” he said. “I have been out here 12 hours.”

Mondale was appointed Wednesday to run in place of the late Sen. Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash last Friday along with his wife, daughter, and five others.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Wellstone’s death had motivated younger activist Democrats who saw the senator, a proudly liberal graduate of the 1960s activist movement, as a model. “I do think it will have a ripple effect all over the country,” he said. “It has energized people.”

Bush and Mondale are expected to tangle, at least indirectly, when the president stops in Minnesota this weekend to campaign for Coleman.

And Bush has echoed Coleman’s strategy of portraying the 74-year-old Mondale as out of touch with Minnesotans. “The president thinks that Norm Coleman represents the future, as a vision for the future of Minnesota,” Fleischer said.

Still, a poll released Wednesday shows Mondale ahead of Coleman by 47 percent to 39 percent. That was close to where the race stood two weeks ago, when Wellstone led Coleman by 47 percent to 41 percent.

Coleman acknowledged that he faced a difficult task in taking on Mondale, who also was vice president under Jimmy Carter and then won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.

“I am running against an icon,” Coleman said. “It’s like running against Mount Rushmore.”

HEATING UP

McAuliffe went on to predict Democrats would consolidate their control of the Senate by picking up two or three seats, and he said the House “is within our grasp.” He also predicted Democrats would win five to eight governorships and said one of them would be a victory over Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother.

Major polls released this week have not reflected McAuliffe’s optimism, with most of them predicting a dead heat. A handful showed slight movement toward Republican congressional candidates, including new surveys for ABC News and Newsweek.

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