Bush tries out new media strategy in Chicago

By Steve Holland

CHICAGO- President George W. Bush, seeking to improve his standing among Americans and bolster Republican chances in November elections, argues his causes in the U.S. Midwest on Friday as part of a new media strategy.

At Ch

icago’s Museum of Science and Technology, Bush holds a midmorning news conference in which he will take questions from regulars in the White House press corps as well as Chicago media.

The Iraq war and high gasoline prices have combined to weigh down Bush’s job approval ratings, which have risen a bit in recent weeks but are still around 40 percent, which experts consider a danger zone for fellow Republicans seeking to maintain control of Congress this year.

On the economic front, Bush may have some good news to crow about, with monthly employment numbers to be released and some analysts predicting a big 368,000-job gain in the private sector in June.

On foreign policy, Bush was likely to face questions about North Korea’s missile launches, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and attempts to stabilize Iraq.

White House officials said Bush’s Chicago stop, which included a dinner with Mayor Richard Daley and local leaders on Thursday night, was the first in a series of similar trips he would make around the country in coming months.

They will allow him to spend more time in a city than his usual quick pace of giving a speech and leaving.

White House officials denied a political motive in the new strategy but said Bush wanted a chance to take his case to Americans about his policies.

“These trips are good for the president, getting out of the (Washington) Beltway, talking to people about their lives, hearing their stories, being able to share ideas with local leaders. That’s something that he likes to do, and he’ll do more of it,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

With his image in disrepair, Bush undertook a retooling of his White House staff a couple of months ago and his communications team is trying to expose the president to more questions from reporters.

While Bush has taken questions on many occasions, he has held only 23 formal, solo White House news conferences, far fewer than his recent predecessors. — Reuter