The Hartford Courant reviews yesterday’s presidential sideshow in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
With control of Congress on the line and all three of Connecticut’s incumbent Republicans facing determined challengers, President Bush appeared here Wednesday in a visit that seemed resolutely apolitical.
He flew in on Air Force One, pitched 150 executives in a tiny theater on the virtues of health savings accounts, then headed back to Washington. By contrast, in a 2002 trip here Bush delivered a policy address to a crowd of 1,200, then made time for a $750,000 congressional campaign fundraiser.
With Bush’s approval rating sinking toward 30 percent, the state GOP seems uncertain how to use the president to help re-elect its incumbents, all of whom are on Democratic target lists.
The closest the president came to politicking was a few kind words about Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the hometown congressman, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District. Neither appeared on stage with Bush.
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Bush moderated a panel of five executives and consumers who gave testimonials about health savings accounts, which offer tax deductions to consumers who save for their health expenses.
The setting was the intimate Playhouse on the Green. The panelists’ byplay was familiar to viewers of late-night infomercials.
The White House picked the panel, whose members rehearsed Tuesday night.
[Congressman Christopher] Shays, whose relationship with the White House has been complicated at best, was the only House member to attend Wednesday, traveling roundtrip with Bush aboard Air Force One.
Shays deplaned behind the president at Tweed New Haven Airport and shared the president’s limousine on the ride to Bridgeport, but he and Bush avoided a joint photo opportunity. Though Shays helped introduce the president, he left the stage and sat in the audience before Bush emerged from the wings.
Still, to the delight of Shays’ Democratic opponent, Diane Farrell, the president spoke warmly of the Republican congressman.
“Shays is a very thoughtful person. He is a friend,” Bush said. “He is an independent fellow …”
His audience interrupted with laughter and applause.
” … who speaks his mind. But he does so in a way that gets people to listen to him. And I appreciate his thoughtful approach to a lot of issues.”
At a rally with her supporters outside the city hall annex, Farrell said: “On all of those incredibly important votes that really have been the underpinnings, the foundations of the Bush administration’s agenda, Congressman Shays has been a friend to the president every single time.”
[Republican Governor Jodi] Rell, who has kept her distance from the Bush administration, greeted Bush at the airport and rode with him and Shays to the theater.