PLAINSBORO, N.J. — REPUBLICANS are putting out the word here at the summer meeting of the nation's governors: President Bush is engaged, upbeat, and ready to go for blood.
And not a moment too soon, either.
There is palpable relief among the Republican governors that Mr. Bush, trailing Democrat Bill Clinton by huge margins, has begun to go on the offensive before his Aug. 17-20 convention - and that he's not merely going through the motions.
"He's broken out of the confinement of the White House and he's been around some real people. That tends to energize candidates," South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell said Sunday of the president's latest campaign phase.
The entire Bush operation kicked into a higher gear last week with a newly aggressive candidate and a "distortion of the day" policy aimed at undermining Mr. Clinton's record.
The president attacked Clinton's health-care policies Sunday in Illinois while his aides distributed a vitriolic broadside in the latest round of an argument over mudslinging and which side is doing more of it.
Getting into the fighting spirit, Republican governors here hastily scheduled a show-of-support news conference Saturday after hearing that Clinton was coming to town for a cheerleading appearance with 14 of their Democratic counterparts.
The news conference, characterized by biting comments about Clinton, followed a strategy session with Bush campaign adviser Charles Black. It was by all accounts much tamer than a briefing last week at which Mr. Black and other campaign officials were browbeaten by frustrated and panicked Republican House members.
The governors here said Bush has been received enthusiastically on his campaign trips to their states and, unlike the congressmen, they are not alarmed by his poll standings.