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President's wife keeps it positive

If President Bush is the tough-talking Texan of American politics, his wife, Laura, represents the sunny side of her husband’s re-election campaign.
LAURA BUSH
Laura Bush talks about the No Child Left Behind Act on Wednesday in Beaverton, Ore.Don Ryan / AP
/ Source: Reuters

If President Bush is the tough-talking Texan of American politics, his wife, Laura, represents the sunny side of her husband’s re-election campaign.

On a two-day swing through South Dakota, Nevada, Oregon and California, Mrs. Bush accentuated the positive, leaving it to her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney and a host of others to launch attacks on Democrat John Kerry, who has visited Oregon Tuesday.

Her visit to Portland Wednesday included a round-table discussion at William Walker Elementary School, which is credited with doing well under Bush’s education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act. Democrats attack the act as an unfunded mandate passed down from Washington.

Talking to second graders, she urged them not to “take a vacation from reading” over the summer. In a subsequent news conference, she strongly defended the No Child Left Behind Act’s tough testing requirements and the funding levels.

“There’s more money associated with the No Child Left Behind Act than there has ever been before in any education bill,” she said in the school’s library.

Later, she was to make a high-profile appearance on NBC’s ”Tonight” show with Jay Leno, in Burbank, California.

Mrs. Bush is one member of Bush’s inner circle who has a completely unblemished image after more than three years in the White House. She is a huge campaign draw, prolific fund-raiser and a smooth, unflappable companion to her husband.

No wife is likely to argue with the story she likes to tell about her husband back when they had not been married long.

Recalling the first race
She accompanied the young Bush as he drove across the Texas Panhandle panhandling for votes on his first race for office, running for Congress in 1978. He lost.

“Believe me, you learn a lot about your husband when you spend a year traveling in the car with him,” she said in Las Vegas Tuesday. “By the end of the campaign, he had even convinced me to vote for him.”

Unlike the monstrous entourage that accompanies the president, Mrs. Bush’s is surrounded by just a personal aide, a spokesman, a nurse, some Air Force personnel and security agents, and occasionally a top campaign official, such as family friend Mercer Reynolds, the finance chairman of Bush-Cheney ’04.

She quietly headlined a private fund-raising dinner on Tuesday night at the Las Vegas home of Steve Wynn, owner of the luxurious Bellagio hotel/casino/entertainment center, a dominant feature on the city’s over-the-top, neon-lit strip. It raised $600,000 for the Republican Party.

Mrs. Bush prefers to campaign with the president but her popularity is such, particularly with Republican women -- W Stands for Women, the campaign poster says -- that the Bush campaign wants to get her out solo sometimes.

When she’s not campaigning these days, she is preparing a program for the spouses of the leaders of the Group of Eight nations that the United States is organizing in Sea Island, Georgia.

Mrs. Bush said anti-globalization protesters disrupted the annual “spouses program” but she is bringing it back this year with serious discussions about the fate of women in Afghanistan and Iraq but also plenty of relaxing and talking.