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Bush campaigns to return Senate control to GOP

Stumps for GOP candidates in Missouri, Minnesota

Bush with former Republican Rep. Jim Talent  who is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri.
Bush with former Republican Rep. Jim Talent who is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri.

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SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (CNN) -- President Bush went on the offensive against Democrats Friday in a boisterous campaign rally for the GOP candidate for the Missouri Senate seat currently held by Jean Carnahan.

With Congress all but finished until after the November election, the president dropped calls for the Democratically controlled Senate to get on board with his plans and instead focused on returning control to the Republicans.

"I'm here in the state of Missouri to take a stand," he told a crowd of GOP stalwarts on the campus of Southwest Missouri University. "The best person running for the United States Senate is Jim Talent. I need him in the Senate to work with him. We've got some big problems facing our country."

The race between Carnahan and Talent, a Missouri congressman from 1982 until 2000 when he left for an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, is one of many closely watched Senate races this election year.

Talent has more than twice the war chest of Carnahan in the final weeks before the November 5 midterm elections and a recent poll suggested he was edging ahead.

Carnahan's husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash just weeks before the 2000 general election. The governor was elected posthumously to the Senate seat then held by John Ashcroft, who is now Attorney General. Jean Carnahan was appoint to the seat.

Bush is stumping for the White House's hand-picked GOP candidate in Minnesota and a top Republican target in Missouri.
Bush is stumping for the White House's hand-picked GOP candidate in Minnesota and a top Republican target in Missouri.

The winner of a November 5 special election will serve the remaining four years of the term.

Bush also campaigned for state Senate candidate Dan Clemens whose race could decide control of the Missouri Senate.

After his Missouri appearance Friday, the president headed for Rochester, Minnesota, where he was to stump for Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, and gubernatorial nominee Tim Pawlenty. Coleman is in a tight race with two-term Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from the Republican Party last year gave the Democrats a one-vote majority in the Senate, spoiling the GOP control of the legislative and executive branches of government.

Senate 'holding up the nominees'

Democratic control of the Senate also meant that Bush's appointments to the government's judicial branch had a much harder time at confirmation.

"The Senate has been lousy when it comes to my judges," he said. "They're holding up the nominees. ... You need to have a U.S. senator like Jim Talent who won't play shameless politics with the judges I put forward."

Bush, on his fourth trip to Missouri this year, also said that he and Talent have similar values, and that the youthful-looking 46-year-old would back his education programs, vote to make tax relief permanent and back his homeland security bill -- one of the measures Bush most wanted to have in place before the Congressional recess.

"The House passed a good homeland security bill," Bush said. "The House heard my call for a bipartisan approach to protecting the homeland. The House passed a bill that's stuck in the Senate."

"They want to roll back an important authority that every president since John F. Kennedy has had ... the authority to suspend labor rules in every department of government when the national security is at stake," he said. "We don't have time for that kind of thing."

His Friday appearances at the campaign rally in Springfield, Missouri, and another later in the day in Rochester, Minnesota, had him stumping in two battleground states considered by White House political advisers to be special concerns for any 2004 re-election bid of his own. In 2000, Bush won Missouri and lost Minnesota -- states that combine for 21 electoral votes.

Before leaving Washington, Bush signed a temporary spending measure to keep the government running through the election.

Later Friday, he was taping a "message of sympathy and solidarity" to the people of Australia, who lost many relatives and friends in the terrorist attacks on Bali, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. In Missouri, Bush said Americans will "be joining our friends in Australia in a day of mourning for the terrible tragedy that took place. We lost lives, they lost a lot of lives."

In Minnesota, Bush was using his appearance at a Rochester Community and Technical College fieldhouse to boost the chances of Minnesota Republicans, from Senate nominee Norm Coleman and gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty on down.

After Vice President Dick Cheney personally intervened to persuade Pawlenty to stay out of the Senate race, the White House has stepped in with assistance in the tight, three-way race to replace Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Recent polls put Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, in a close race against Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.

By evening, Bush was to be at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains for the remainder of the weekend.

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