Bush staying clear of campaign trail

President Bush is staying off the campaign trail in the race to succeed him.

The president is raising money. But for voters in the swing states that count – Florida and Ohio, for example – Bush is the invisible incumbent. With a 26 percent approval rating, Bush was expected to keep a low profile in John McCain's campaign. As it turns out, Bush has been a virtual no-show – except in Democratic TV ads that regularly tie him to Republican candidates.

Since Bush endorsed McCain in the Rose Garden on March 5, the two have appeared in public only three times for a total of 12 minutes. That's in stark contrast to the scores of fundraisers and rallies Bush did before midterm elections in 2002 and 2006.

As McCain and Barack Obama make their final pitches to voters, Bush will be spending time at the Camp David presidential retreat. He has no public events on Monday or Tuesday, not even an Election Day photo-op.

He cast an absentee ballot for McCain last week; the White House sent it down to Texas to be counted.

On election night, Bush is expected to watch the returns on television at the White House with friends and celebrate first lady Laura Bush's 62nd birthday.

The White House says Bush has been trying to stay out of the public spotlight – that he's busy with the financial crisis, two wars and the upcoming transition to a new administration. The economy and recent hurricanes on the Gulf Coast prompted Bush to cancel appearances at fundraisers.

In early September after Hurricane Gustav, Bush scrapped his planned opening-night speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. That worked out well for McCain who has tried hard to distance himself from the president.

Asked on Friday if Bush feels unloved by his party, White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said: “I haven't had this kind of conversation with him, but I don't believe he takes it personally. He's been in politics his entire life – he's been around it his entire life – and he knows that it's a rough-and-tumble business.”

White House aides say the administration and the McCain camp jointly decided months ago that the Arizona senator would do his own politicking and that the president's time was best spent helping the Republican Party and House and Senate candidates. According to GOP officials, Bush has appeared at 84 events during the 2008 election cycle, raising more than $147 million.

Some close to the president are out on the trail. Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned in Wyoming on Saturday for three Republicans running for the House and Senate, and Mrs. Bush was expected to be in Kentucky on election eve at a get-out-the-vote rally.

In the three weeks leading up to Election Day, Bush has been at only three political events – all closed to the public. He helped raise $500,000 for Republicans at a fundraiser in Michigan. He attended a $1 million event in Washington for Senate Republicans. He also stopped last week at GOP congressional campaign headquarters in Washington to buck up political workers scrambling to prevent Republican House and Senate losses.

There were early hints that McCain and Bush would not be chummy on the trail.

At Bush's 10-minute endorsement of McCain in March, the president told reporters he would campaign for or against McCain – whatever was best for the GOP. “If he wants me to show up, I will. If he wants me to say ‘You know, I'm not for him,' I will,” Bush said.