KENNEBUNKPORT, Me. — Still polishing his "regular guy" image, President Bush set off a brief flurry of excitement Saturday as he walked the 2 1/2 miles from his house to the center of this small coastal town.
"I shook his hand, Marge," yelled Arthur Elia of Niagara Falls, N. Y., after a brief encounter with the President. "This is great," another said.
Bush, face reddened by the breeze and near-freezing temperature, smiled and waved as he went to buy razor blades at the local drugstore. Then, his 45-minute excursion over, he departed in a six-car motorcade, leaving behind a crowd of about 20 reporters to interview a group of wintertime tourists that was only slightly larger.
While the visitors were enthusiastic, Kennebunkport residents were more dubious. "He never used to do this," said a waitress at Allison's, the town's only open restaurant.
Bush, said White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, just "loves exercise, and he loves this little town," where Bush's family members have lived since before the President was born.
In the lull of winter, on a day of bright sun, blue skies and whitecaps in the ocean surrounding Walkers Point--Bush's private peninsula--the town has almost the look of the quiet village it must have been before tourism turned the Maine coast into a bustle of summer cottages and resort hotels.
Word Quickly Spreads
At least it had that look until shortly before noon, when word quickly spread that George and Barbara Bush and the family spaniel, Millie, were on their way.
Secret Service agents talking into their cuffs, Bush staff members with walkie-talkies and television crews carrying portable telephones quickly staked out positions along Ocean Avenue as Bush, wielding a walking stick, came into view, clad in sneakers, loud plaid pants, a fur-trimmed hat and a leather aviator jacket emblazoned with a patch that proclaimed Lt. George Bush, USNR.
As a crowd quickly gathered, the President signed a few autographs while his wife, Barbara, wearing a yellow parka, blue jeans and black Reeboks, walked alongside, with Millie straining at the leash. Reporters and photographers raced behind to catch any stray presidential words.
"He looked like the Pied Piper of Hamlin," said Fitzwater, who ambled onto the scene as Bush popped into Colonial Pharmacy. Asked if he had walked too, the slightly rotund presidential spokesman, puffing on his cigar, responded: "You kidding me? I was part of the rear-guard protective force."
Bush, Fitzwater said, had gotten to work at about 8 a.m. Saturday, only slightly later than his usual workday schedule. Today, he plans to go to services at the local Congregational church, because his regular church, Ste. Ann's Episcopal, is closed for the winter.
Plans 3 Speeches This Week
In the meantime, the spokesman said, Bush is cheered by the reaction to his budget, which he plans to tout in three speeches this week, in New Hampshire on Monday, then, later, in Columbia, S.C., and St. Louis.
While many congressional Democrats have criticized the budget for being unspecific, that vagueness is a virtue, Fitzwater insisted.
"There's room for negotiation," he said. Budget cuts, in particular, "should be worked out with Congress." By not proposing specific cuts himself, Fitzwater said, Bush "avoided some of the initial arguments with Congress and says, 'Let's work it out.' "