Laura Bush: from reserved to a rising star
The erstwhile campaign wallflower has become a campaign player.
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Because Mrs. Bush has spent so many years in public life promoting the uncontroversial causes of reading and education, her ventures into the sticky terrain of stem cells and swift boats are more noteworthy. But as the president's wife of 27 years - one who has been called "the steel in his back" and a central force in his decision to stop drinking - Mrs. Bush is uniquely positioned to speak of him from a personal perspective.Skip to next paragraph
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"She can offer testimony that, whatever you might think of him as a political actor and however you may feel about this or that policy decision, this is a good man," says Professor Buchanan. "And the credibility of that assertion is elevated by the perception that she's a pretty good woman."
Of course, in this intensely charged political atmosphere, most Democrats - even those who like Mrs. Bush - would never make the leap to voting for Mr. Bush. Where Mrs. Bush could be effective is among the undecideds, some of whom may need only a nudge to vote to reelect the president.
And in assessing her statements, voters know that Mrs. Bush is hardly a neutral observer; she has her own stake in seeing her husband succeed. All first ladies behave like protective lionesses when their husbands or children come under attack. And Laura Bush has married into an intensely political family that sticks together.
She was a Democrat when she married Bush but easily converted to the other team. The day before her husband was inaugurated, she revealed on NBC's Today Show that she didn't believe Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, should be overturned - an anathema to the dominant Republican view. Since then, she has declined to discuss the subject. Her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, also acknowledged favoring abortion rights after she left the White House, but she, too, keeps quiet.
To this day, even as the Bush campaign puts Laura out on the trail, little is left to chance - except perhaps the chocolate custard cone she ordered during a recent unannounced stop in suburban St. Louis, while wearing a light-gray pantsuit. (By all appearances, she managed not to spill.) She was on her way to an invitation-only "W Stands for Women" rally in an upper-income area of St. Louis County. Mrs. Bush stuck to the script - highlighting the anniversary of women's suffrage in the US and gains for females in Iraq and Afghanistan - and didn't take questions. But the audience loved her, especially when she worked the rope line for 15 minutes after the speech.
In a typical comment, Bobby Cathcart, a pastor's wife from St. Charles County, said, "She's a wonderful support to her husband."
The most excited person on the rope line might have been Tammy Boyer, an Army specialist on leave after 16 months in Iraq and a Bush supporter. Laura Bush autographed her ticket with a special message. "She thanked me for my service, for being there," said Ms. Boyer.
In a recent appearance with her husband on Larry King Live, Mrs. Bush allowed that she now enjoys giving speeches. But, political observers say, don't expect her to run for the Senate anytime soon.
• Staci D. Kramer contributed to this report from St. Louis.