Even a president has to face bad news

/ Source: The Associated Press

The presidency comes with powerful tools that can help incumbents keep their jobs: a mighty public-relations machine, a bully pulpit, a famous airplane. Yet President George W. Bush has been powerless to halt a recent tide of bad news, from surging violence and missing weapons in Iraq to missteps by his own campaign to a potentially damaging new probe by the FBI.

The inconvenient news has been magnified in the superheated atmosphere of the final week of Bush's tight race with Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the Nov. 2 election.

Kerry's campaign tried to stoke the latest revelation: News that the FBI has begun investigating whether the Pentagon improperly awarded no-bid military contracts to Halliburton Co., formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"George Bush thought it was a good idea to give ... Halliburton a $7 billion no-bid contract," Kerry said at a campaign stop in Orlando, Florida.

For five straight days, Bush had been dogged by reports that nearly 400 tons (some 350 metric tons) of explosives disappeared from Iraq's Al-Qaqaa military installation.

Demonstrators managed to get past security at Bush's first speech Friday in Manchester, New Hampshire, and held up signs that read, "386 TONS." Bush backers shouted them down with chants of "Four more years!" and they were escorted from the hockey arena.

Bush's aides couldn't have been pleased when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a frequent Bush campaign partner and surrogate, said the troops in Iraq, not Bush, bore the responsibility for searching for the explosives.

There was more: The U.N. nuclear agency said U.S. officials were warned about the vulnerability of explosives stored at the installation after another facility was looted.

Minneapolis ABC affiliate KSTP-TV, which had a crew embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during the war, released videotape that it said showed soldiers examining explosives at the massive Al-Qaqaa facility nine days after the fall of Baghdad. The video could possibly undermine Bush's suggestion the explosives were looted before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

A mixed blessing
The presidency is a mixed blessing for incumbents seeking a second term, said Ken Khachigian, who worked for the White House under Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

"You have to take the good with the bad," Khachigian said. "The good is, you're the president of the United States, flying on Air Force One and military helicopters. It's pretty impressive, and that's been helping the president."

At the same time, "there's a natural tendency in the media to try to expose the incumbent," he said.

But some of the headlines hurting Bush are not directly related to the campaign.

Thursday, there was new horror from Iraq: Insurgents slaughtered 11 Iraqi soldiers, beheading one, then shooting the others execution-style.

Two more U.S. soldiers were killed — one in a car bombing in Baghdad, and the other in an ambush near Balad, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of the Iraqi capital. More than 1,100 U.S. service members have died since Bush launched the Iraq war in March 2003.

A new survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in the 18 months since the U.S.-led invasion than would be expected based on the death rate before the war.

Voters were reminded in the week before the U.S. election that the cost in dollars is soaring too.

Bush plans to send Congress a request of up to $75 billion early next year for additional money to finance wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and operations against terrorism, congressional aides said earlier this week. That's on top of $215 billion that lawmakers have provided since 2001 to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and begin rebuilding those countries.

Bush's camp prides itself on its professionalism, but his re-election campaign acknowledged Thursday that it had doctored a photograph used in a television commercial to remove the president and the podium where he was standing. The campaign said the ad will be re-edited and reshipped to TV stations.

A group of soldiers in the crowd was electronically copied to fill in the space where the president and the podium had been, aides say.