Bush travels the land bearing election gifts

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The Independent Online
Call it the power of incumbency - or plain old electoral bribery. From hurricane-ravaged Florida to recession-hit Texas, President George Bush has travelled the land this week dispensing largesse. Every stop has been in a state or a constituency vital to his re-election effort this autumn.

On Tuesday, Mr Bush visited the area of southern Florida devastated by Hurricane Andrew to pledge open-ended aid from Washington to rebuild shattered public works and restore the air base at Homestead which otherwise would have been closed under the cutbacks in the US military. It could mean dollars 3bn ( pounds 1.5bn) extra federal spending.

That trip, however, paled beside yesterday's 4,000-mile, 14- hour odyssey which took the President to South Dakota and two separate destinations in Texas before returning in the late evening to the White House. In each port of call Mr Bush had a large something to offer.

In South Dakota, he announced dollars 1bn of new subsidies to boost grain exports. In Lubbock in west Texas he was expected to promise federal support for hard-hit cotton growers. Then it was a hop to Fort Worth. Even before his arrival, the airborne White House announced an end to objections to a dollars 4bn sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan, thus guaranteeing thousands of jobs at the Fort Worth plant of General Dynamics, the aircraft's manufacturer.

Each initiative may have its merits. Every one, however, serves an electoral purpose. The farm support measures will reassure a traditional Republican constituency whose loyalties have been strained by plunging grain prices, and shore up support in several Midwestern states which will be vital battlegrounds in the run-up to 3 November.

The relief for cotton farmers and defence industry workers in Texas can only improve Mr Bush's position in his adopted state with its 32 electoral college votes - normally a sure thing for the Republicans, but which this time polls suggest the Democrats have a real chance of winning.

In another military export deal with unmistakable political implications, every sign is that the Bush adminstration will soon give the go-ahead to the long-stalled dollars 5bn sale of 72 F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia. The transaction may be a necessary assurance to a US ally in the Middle East. It also would preserve thousands of jobs at McDonnell Douglas, based in the 'swing' state of Missouri.

Mr Bush's ulterior motives may be easy to discern. But his actions demonstrate the energy and commitment of a 68-year-old President whose health has been called into question. And it demonstrates the power of an incumbent to make things happen.

This week, Mr Bush has dominated the US news. He has relegated Bill Clinton to the sidelines; however vigorous and articulate Mr Clinton's policy speeches, he cannot yet deliver on them. For nine more weeks, Mr Bush can - which means predictions of his demise must still be premature.