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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 20:38 GMT
No rest for the birthday girl
US First Lady Laura Bush (l) receives a birthday kiss from her husband, US President George Bush
Mrs Bush receives a birthday kiss from her husband
US President George W Bush's frantic last minute campaigning for the country's midterm elections could not have come at a more awkward time for his wife, Laura.


He likes to act like it's the first time I ever campaigned but, believe me, it isn't,

First Lady Laura Bush
But not because he is away from home, but because the First Lady celebrates her 56th birthday on Monday.

And to make matters worse, the presidential couple will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on Tuesday - the same day that Mr Bush will be hoping that his Republican Party will perform strongly in one of the most bitterly contested fights for control of US Congress.

A penitent Mr Bush acknowledged the unfortunate timing in a speech while campaigning in Iowa on her birthday, where they finally met up after a whirlwind campaign tour that took him to 16 states in five days.

"I couldn't think of a better place to roll over in my bed, and say to Laura, 'Happy birthday'," the US president said with his usual candour, before leading the crowd in a rendition of the birthday song.

'Emotionally vested'

But Mrs Bush has not been sitting idle while her husband has been criss-crossing the country.

Laura Bush holds a young baby during a campaign rally in South Dakota
Laura Bush is a seasoned political campaigner
She has already visited New Hampshire, Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, where she helped shore up support for Elizabeth Dole, wife of former presidential candidate Bob Dole.

And that is before visiting Missouri, Arkansas and Dallas, Texas, and then returning to the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas for Tuesday's crucial vote.

Mrs Bush says that, despite her husbands fond assertions that she dislikes politics, she is in fact a seasoned campaigner who puts in a lot of effort into her appearances.

At rallies she works the crowds courteously and professionally, urging them to vote in concise speeches on behalf of the candidates.

In her efforts she follows the lead of numerous first ladies before her, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Hillary Clinton, both of whom featured prominently in their husband's presidential campaigns.

"One of my favourite parts of it... is getting to know the candidates and being with the candidates," she told the Associated Press news agency.

"You get emotionally vested, really, in the people who are your friends that you want to do well."

Popular figure

Mrs Bush has in fact been campaigning for much of Mr Bush's career, even providing support for her father-in-law, George Bush senior, during his failed bid to retain the White House in 1992 against Democrat Bill Clinton.

She was also by her husband's side during his campaign for Texas governor and in his ultimately successful bid for the White House.

"He likes to act like it's the first time I ever campaigned but, believe me, it isn't," she says.

"I know what it's like to be in [the candidates'] shoes right now, to be nervous about Tuesday night, to be so anxious that every single one of your voters will show up."

Her enthusiasm also seems to have rubbed off on the electorate, many of whom attended rallies for the mid-terms for the express purpose of meeting her.

"We just really wanted to shake her hand," says one woman at the Iowa rally, who braved the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of the birthday girl.


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See also:

05 Apr 02 | Politics
14 Sep 01 | Education
16 Nov 01 | Politics
04 Nov 02 | Americas
29 Oct 02 | Americas
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