updated 10/12/2006 9:26:33 AM ET 2006-10-12T13:26:33

President Bush is campaigning with House Speaker Dennis Hastert to help two Illinois Republicans in tough races, but it's the embattled top official in Congress who has an urgent need of a crutch.

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Bush has been backing Hastert as he fends off calls for him to resign over his handling of the congressional page scandal. The president on Wednesday called Hastert "very credible" and, last week, a "father, teacher and coach who cares about the children of this country."

The political event in Chicago to benefit David McSweeney and Peter Roskam is the first time Bush has publicly appeared with Hastert since former Rep. Mark Foley resigned in disgrace over sexually explicit messages he sent to teenage male pages.

Key voter issues
"This Foley issue bothers a lot of people, including me," Bush said at a news conference. But, he said, national security and the economy will be the deciding factors in voter's minds.

"When they get in that booth, they're going to be thinking about, you know, how best to secure the country from attack and, you know, how best to keep the economy growing," he said.

With the GOP already facing waning public support for the war in Iraq and lukewarm approval ratings of the president and Congress, the Foley scandal has become another roadblock in the party's effort to retain control of the House and Senate.

Speaker under fire
Hastert insists he was not aware that the Florida congressman was sending sexually explicit instant messages until Foley resigned two weeks ago. Regardless of Hastert's handling of the Foley matter, his tenure as speaker may be nearing an end, according to a prominent conservative activist, Paul Weyrich.

"In all probability Speaker Hastert will be replaced next year, whether it's because the Democrats take over or it's because Republicans retain control and they decide he's been speaker long enough," Weyrich said. 2006 key races

With just a few weeks remaining before the election, the White House is doing its best to prop up the speaker. White House press secretary Tony Snow plans to appear at a fundraiser with Hastert on Saturday. Asked whether the Foley scandal is contributing to Bush's low poll numbers, Snow said: "It certainly hasn't been a lift."

Appearing with the president
While Bush continues to be his party's biggest fundraising draw, Roskam and McSweeney could risk alienating some voters by appearing with Bush in a state where he is unpopular. His opponent, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, says the fundraiser will remind voters that Roskam puts party politics first.

"Politics is not the main job of Congress. Governing is," Duckworth said. "And they want someone who is going to help govern, not someone who is going to, on every vote, go check with his party leadership and say, 'Which way am I supposed to vote on this?' I mean, if that's the case, why do we need representatives?"

Roskam insists his neck-and-neck race against Duckworth is not a referendum on either Bush or Hastert.

"It's going to be Peter Roskam on the ballot, and that's the person that this district knows," Roskam said. "There's no evidence that the speaker knew about the Foley e-mails. Here in Illinois, he's a leader."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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