Four hours, a million bucks, and a policy speech. That sums up George Bush’s visit to Minnesota yesterday. And depending on who did the reporting, the trip offered something for everyone covering the race.
Jim Ragsdale and Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (registration required), and Sharon Schmickle and Mary Jane Smetanka of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (registration required) did the hometown honors.
Ragsdale and Salisbury describe the trip as a “typical presidential two-fer, combining official business with politics.” Bush, they write, “was upbeat in his official remarks, which focused on the importance of community colleges and the need for technological innovation.” The president also touted $350 million in federal grants for hydrogen fuel technology, enacting a permanent ban on taxing broadband Internet access and converting paper medical records to electronic files.
Bush’s 50-minute speech to 2,400 members of the American Association of Community Colleges was interrupted 21 times by applause, note Ragsdale and Salisbury. Afterward, the 25-car presidential motorcade whisked to suburban Edina, where a few protestors in the upscale suburb mingled with a largely supportive crowd of onlookers, write Schmickle and Smetanka.
The $1 million raised will be used for GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, reports Minnesota Public Radio. The visit was Bush’s eighth to the state this year — surprising, since Minnesota has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1972, but GOP leaders say this year the trend may change. Sen. John Kerry is due in Minnesota next week for speeches and fundraisers.
The national media saw the Bush visit through slightly different eyes. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank characterizes Bush’s speech as Clintonesque: “the bite-size presidential initiative.”
“[W]ith a federal budget deficit limiting his options and a campaign-year Congress unlikely to pass major initiatives, Bush is highlighting some of the same small-bore issues that enthralled his predecessor,” writes Milbank.
To tie together support for community colleges and the broadband, electronic medical records and fuel-cell initiatives, the White House issued a 17-page booklet called “A New Generation of American Innovation,” Milbank reports.
At least one person in the audience, Thomas R. Bailey of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, expressed surprise that Bush would unveil the health records and technology initiatives in this venue instead of, say, Silicon Valley. Calling it a “perfectly reasonable proposal,” Bailey wondered to Milbank: “Was this really the place to do it?”
And that’s precisely the take of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mark Simon, who focuses on local response to the plan unveiled in Minnesota.
Bush’s agenda “has its roots in the solidly Democratic landscape of Silicon Valley,” writes Simon. While the proposal will likely please “the high-tech executives who have raised millions of dollars” for Bush’s re-election, Simon notes, Democrats were unimpressed.
The president’s speech was a “rehash of things that should be done,” Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from Palo Alto, told Simon. “There isn’t any quarrel with anything he said, but there hasn’t been any effort by the administration to make these things a priority by putting these proposals in the budget.”
As for the choice of venue? A March survey, cited by Simon, shows Bush’s disapproval rating in Silicon Valley at a whopping 61 percent. Compared to that, Minnesota’s still in play. A no-brainer.