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Bush remained consistent

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Minneapolis — George W. Bush loves to say he's resolute and steadfast.

"A president must not shift with the wind. A president must take the tough decisions and stand by them," he tells supporters.

"We are relentless. We are determined," he continues. "A president has to lead our country with consistency and strength. In a war, sometimes your tactics change, but not your principles."

Throughout this campaign, Mr. Bush has consistently stayed on message, and it's a simple one: Terrorism is a real and constant threat, and he is the man best suited to protect Americans. More than half of his 40-minute stump speech, which has varied little throughout the campaign, is dedicated to his vision of the war on terror.

His opponent, Senator John Kerry, has occasionally struggled to sound a consistent message, but Mr. Bush has never strayed. Yet it may turn out to have been the wrong message, forcing Mr. Bush to share the fate of his father, a one-term president.

"They decided that once the decision was made to go into Iraq, they were going to have to use the war on terror as the template for the race for the presidency," said Steve Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota.

Mr. Bush, 58, is a man who mocks his own lack of eloquence, but he delivers an effective speech, using simple ideas and a down-home delivery that partisan audiences adore.

"We are staying on the offence," he says. "We're chasing the terrorists across the globe so that we don't have to face them here at home."

But the link between the war on terror and the war in Iraq has proven increasingly tenuous. No evidence has emerged of links between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks, and weapons of mass destruction have proven elusive.

"They've executed the strategy, but it's not as successful as it otherwise would have been," Prof. Schier said. "If they had found WMD, I think this guy would be sitting at 55 to 60 per cent" in the opinion polls.

The problem is that the war on terror was the best campaign strategy for Mr. Bush at a time when his standing was slipping on other issues, such as social security and health care.Mr. Bush started the campaign with a clear advantage over his rival, who emerged from an expensive springtime primary race unloved by his party and unknown by much of the U.S. public. Then the Republican campaign machine, under the expert leadership of strategist Karl Rove, effectively shredded Mr. Kerry's image as a hardened Vietnam War veteran and turned him into a liberal "flip-flopper."

Yet Mr. Rove may have outdone himself in the effort, lowering expectations to such a degree that most Americans were surprised to see a forceful, articulate Mr. Kerry skewer Mr. Bush in the first of three televised debates.

Larry Jacobs, head of the 2004 Elections Project at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, believes Mr. Bush was too quick to hit the campaign trail in the spring.

Instead of remaining at the White House and staying above the fray, as incumbents have done in the past, he raised the level of partisanship from the start and made it more difficult to attract disaffected Democrats or uncertain independents.

"This is something that incumbent presidents for a long, long time have exploited politically. Stay in the Rose Garden, talk about doing the people's business, have leaders come and be seen conducting the war on terrorism," he suggested.

Mr. Jacobs noted that 90 per cent of Democrats are poised to vote for Mr. Kerry this time, an unusual level of unity.

But the Bush campaign determined that it could win by relying mainly on its core supporters, primarily the Christian right. The result has been an emphasis on so-called values issues, such as opposition to gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

For the 20,000-plus passionate Republicans who gathered at the Target Center arena in downtown Minneapolis this weekend as the President attempted to bring the battleground state of Minnesota to his side, Mr. Bush struck all the right notes. "I love W. I believe him. That's the bottom line," said Mary Thompson, a 45-year-old employee of the Wisconsin Family Council, an anti-abortion group.

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