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On the stump, Bush slows pace to his liking

DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. -- The presidency may be hard work, as President Bush said several times during the first debate. But his campaigning these days appears much less so, with a relatively moderate travel schedule and an unusually narrow list of targeted travel states.

Always fond of returning to his own bed at the end of the day, Bush has spent six out of the last seven nights at the White House, stepping off the campaign trail some days in time to catch the baseball playoffs. This weekend -- less than two weeks before the election, typically a time for frenzied barnstorming -- Bush is planning to spend two consecutive nights far from any battleground, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Until Election Day, he is making some curious stops for an incumbent locked in such a close race -- traveling to the largely Democratic state of Pennsylvania three times in two weeks, for example, while avoiding the close battleground of Ohio, except for making a stop today, his first since Oct. 2.

According to some Republicans, the odd schedule, which does not quite match the states where Bush's prospects are best, is reminiscent of his campaign travel four years ago, when Bush stopped in California and New Jersey in the final days of what turned out to be a closely contested race.

Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts holds roughly the same number of campaign events each day as does Bush (between two and four), but Kerry has spent most nights on the road and is planning to campaign both weekends before Nov. 2. Given the intensity of the campaign so far and the neck-and-neck nature of opinion polls, the lack of urgency in the Bush campaign is remarkable.

Bush's pace is almost certain to intensify next week, but for the moment the Bush calendar seems to reflect a high level of confidence among his campaign officials that the president is striking just the right note, at the right speed -- bolstered by his consistent if narrow lead in national polls over the last three weeks.

"The president has a full-time job as a wartime president," said Reed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. "He's also a full-time candidate, and he does both effectively. That's contrasted against a senator who has missed almost all the Senate votes in a year when he was trying to run for president."

It is impossible to correlate a candidate's travel schedule with his ability to win votes, but it is an article of faith in politics that visiting a targeted region helps draw support, generating mostly positive local news coverage and making local residents feel valued. Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew Research Center, said that the local news coverage is especially valuable in an environment where three-quarters of voters get their political news from TV, and one-fifth of that group relies on local broadcasts rather than cable or the major networks.   Continued...

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