WASHINGTON — Shadowing his political rival, President Bush will forsake Air Force One next week and campaign by bus in Michigan and Ohio, two key battleground states.
News outlets in Iowa and Wisconsin reported that Bush's bus tour would stop later next week in those states, but the White House refused to confirm the reports.
Rolling through the countryside by bus has become a quadrennial electioneering staple since Democrat Bill Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore, popularized the grass-roots style of campaigning in 1992. Just this week, Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, traveled through Michigan and Ohio on a "Jobs First" bus tour.
Bush's trip next week is part of a now-familiar pattern in which the president follows Kerry's footsteps through swing states. Bush campaigned in Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri and California days after Democratic primaries and caucuses in an effort to revitalize his image after a battering from Democrats.
The focus on the Midwest -- by Bush and Kerry -- also points to the strategic importance of the Rust Belt in what is widely expected to be a close election in November.
As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush campaigned occasionally by bus. Next week's bus tour, though, would be his first as president.
It is no mystery why he would travel by bus, said independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
For one thing, Rothenberg said, it would serve to counter the image of an imperial presidency.
"There's always the impression of presidents in the White House, separate from average folks," Rothenberg said. "A bus tour is a way to touch a lot of states and a lot of towns -- and send the message that you're aware and you are there and seeing real people in real time. It's an important subtext."
As the Clinton-Gore bus trips demonstrated 12 years ago, bus tours can generate considerable local excitement, as well as publicity that lasts for days as local media track the bus moving gradually toward town.
Bush is scheduled to appear on Monday in Michigan, where he will host an "Ask President Bush" event in Niles, followed by a speech in Kalamazoo and then a reelection rally in Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb. The format for the "Ask President Bush" event was unclear.
The president on Tuesday is scheduled to speak at a "pancake breakfast" gathering in Toledo, Ohio, before going to Dayton for another "Ask President Bush" event. Then he will deliver a speech in Lebanon and make a campaign rally appearance in Cincinnati before returning to Washington.
Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin are expected to be closely contested in November, and were decided by narrow margins in 2000.
Of the four, the most important appears to be Ohio, with 21 electoral votes. No Republican has been elected president without winning Ohio.
Bush carried the state in 2000, 50% to 46%. But most polls are showing Ohio, which has been hit hard by manufacturing-job losses, to be a toss-up. Bush has visited Ohio 16 times as president.
In 2000, Democratic presidential nominee Gore carried the other three states Bush is expected to visit.
He won Michigan's 18 electoral votes in a 51%-46% decision, Wisconsin's 11 electoral votes by several thousand votes and Iowa's 7 electoral votes 49% to 48%.