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Inside Politics

Campaign mode for Bush?

President veers off schedule for lunch

By Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush pays a surprise visit to the Nuthin' Fancy Cafe in Roswell, New Mexico.
President Bush pays a surprise visit to the Nuthin' Fancy Cafe in Roswell, New Mexico.

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ROSWELL, New Mexico (CNN) -- White House officials say President Bush's post-State of the Union road trip is not the start of his re-election campaign, but the president acted something like a candidate during a stop here Thursday.

In what could be sign the campaign has started, even unofficially, Bush stopped at a restaurant to mingle with the locals in a state he lost to Al Gore by just 366 votes in 2000. That's noteworthy because the president almost never strays from his regimented schedule.

Bush ordered ribs in a brief stop at the Nothin' Fancy restaurant.

"I'm hungry, and I want to order some ribs," the president said.

The president also ordered cornbread, fried okra and a buttermilk pie, to go. He paid for it with cash from his wallet.

Edward Zabala, the employee of the restaurant who took the president's money, said he paid $39.30.

Zabala said the bill should have been $42.95 but he charged the president less because he was "caught up in the moment."

"I was nervous," Zabala told CNN.

Bush did not leave tip for the to-go order, but Zabala said one was not expected.

Aside from one question on homeland security, Bush refused to answer reporters' queries during the stop.

He did, however, chide journalists traveling in the small pool with him about buying food to help the local economy.

The president told one television correspondent, "Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. ... You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?"

He went on to say of the journalists with him, "I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money."

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