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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Profile: Laura Bush
"I'm going to give you some reasons tonight to put me back in," joked President George Bush in a recent campaign speech. "But perhaps the most important reason of all is so that Laura has four more years."

Mr and Mrs Bush
The couple attended the same junior high school as children

The comment was perhaps only half in jest.

With high approval ratings, Laura Bush has become one of the key weapons in the Republicans' campaign to hold onto the White House.

The former librarian and teacher has traditionally been presented as the quiet and caring wife and mother - but in this, her husband's last election battle, she has moved decisively into the limelight - proving herself a confident campaigner and formidable fundraiser.

She remains in stark contrast to her strident predecessor Hillary Clinton and her outspoken challenger Teresa Heinz Kerry - but that is precisely where her strength is seen to lie.

Softly, but assuredly, she has started to stray away from her pet subjects of education and reading, defending her husband on controversial issues such as his war against Iraq and stance on stem cell research.

Tragedy

An only child, Mrs Bush was born Laura Welch in Midland, Texas in 1946 and raised in a staunchly Democrat family. Technically she crossed paths with her future husband early in life when the two of them attended the same junior high school - although they did not know each other.

A confirmed bookworm, she loved reading and decided very quickly that she wanted to be a school teacher.

Mrs Bush makes radio address
Mrs Bush was the first spouse to make the weekly presidential address

Her late adolescent years were marred by a tragedy which is thought to have weighed heavily on her during her adult life.

Aged 17, Mrs Bush accidentally drove through a stop sign and hit a car driven by a high school friend, Michael Douglas, also 17. He was killed.

According to at least one account, for over a decade following the accident she kept herself to herself. She gained a degree in education in 1968, and by the age of 30 had settled into a quiet life as a school librarian without any steady companion in the picture.

But friends cajoled her into meeting a bachelor her own age called George W - and a whirlwind romance ensued.

Just three months later the pair were married.

They settled down in Mrs Bush's childhood hometown of Midland. She left her career and in 1981 they became the parents of twin girls, Jenna and Barbara Bush, named after their paternal and maternal grandparents.

The pregnancy was not easy; doctors informed the couple that at least one of the twins might be lost. Some observers have seen this as one of the reasons Mrs Bush has been so protective of the girls, who have only recently entered the media fray.

Mrs Bush is also credited with helped her husband to give up drinking on his 40th birthday. She allegedly issued him with an ultimatum: "It's me or the bottle."

Public speaking

When Laura Bush agreed to marry George, she allegedly made him promise that she would never have to speak in public on his behalf.

Barbara and Jenna Bush
The Bush twins are named after their paternal and maternal grandmothers

That promise has long been broken. Indeed, as the US bombed Afghanistan, Mrs Bush became the first presidential spouse to deliver the president's weekly radio address, highlighting the oppression of women by al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

And while she would never differ with her husband in public, the couple have let it be known that when Laura thinks her husband's speeches have been off the mark, she makes it clear.

When Mr Bush said he wanted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" for the 11 September attacks, Laura let her husband know she thought he had made himself look more like a hot-headed cowboy than a level-headed statesman.

"Bushie, you gonna git 'im?" she whispered in his ear.


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