Mayor Daley caught a heck of a break last night. Just hours after a federal jury slapped a guilty verdict on four of his City Hall crew for rigged clout-hiring, he dines with President Bush.
Who better to help deflect fallout from the public corruption plaguing Daley's City Hall than the president himself, arriving in time to celebrate his 60th birthday at a dinner with the mayor and seven other men from the Illinois business community.
Bush wanted to leave Washington to get some local flavor in a visit planned around a Drake Hotel fundraiser today for GOP governor candidate Judy Baar Topinka. With Bush as the headliner, Topinka will collect $1.2 million for her race against Gov. Blagojevich at the sold-out SRO event.
This kind of haul may also put to rest -- maybe for a good 10 or 20 minutes -- questions about whether it is good or bad for GOP candidates to campaign with a president who has low ratings. Bush came through for Topinka even though an aide told columnist George Will in April that Topinka wanted the president to raise money for her "late at night" and "in an undisclosed location."
The president, for his part, gets a real taste of Chicago's City Hall scandals. The president is spending what for him is enormous time here -- first Chicago, then Aurora for this visit -- about 20 hours, including the overnight.
Usually the president parachutes into a place, spends a few hours and then jets back home on Air Force One. He stays in his bubble and the White House reporters traveling with him ask, if they get a chance, questions about the big national and international events of the day. Where they all are most times hardly makes a difference in the content of the stories.
An example of a parachute visit is the May 22 trip Bush made to Chicago, where he talked about immigration and the war on terror when he spoke to the National Restaurant Association. Except for a few jokes about the White Sox and Cubs -- and a few compliments tossed to the mayor -- you would not have any particular sense of place.
For Bush, the stops in Chicago and Aurora are part of what is going to be a concentrated effort to get out of Washington and spend time with local leaders and local press.
The president is going to try to do this more often -- stay longer in a major media market.
"You're going to see some times where the president goes out, spends a bit of time in a place, talks with the leaders, drills into the issues, listens to what they have to say,'' White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said.
After a breakfast with small business owners, Bush is having a press conference this morning at the Museum of Science and Industry where the local press is invited as well as the usual traveling White House press corps. Why the museum? It works with the theme of the visit.
The president later today will talk about his "American Competitiveness Agenda,'' unveiled in his 2006 State of the Union message -- a call for more investment in science and technology so the U.S. can compete in the global marketplace.
In Washington, there is a fairly strict pecking order at presidential press conferences; after a wire reporter leads off, the television networks and national print reporters on the White House beat get to bat; a regional or foreign reporter has only a long shot to get a question in.
Snow told me that Bush hopes to "mix it up'' between the local and national press, which I take to mean that Bush will make a point of calling on local reporters today.
Instead of Korea, Iran and Iraq, it could be:
The future of Amtrak (big deal for Chicago); Medicaid (Illinois needs a federal waiver to collect hundreds of millions of dollars more from the state-federal program for the medically indigent); whether Argonne National Laboratory should be picked to be the home of the Department of Energy's Rare Isotope Accelerator project; and if Bush can help turn a blue state red.
This new strategy may or may not help Bush's low ratings. I think the larger events his administration is confronted with -- the Iraq War, high gas prices, the looming North Korean threat, the botched Katrina response, the immigration impasse in Congress -- have a lot to do with the Bush White House not getting a specific, themed message out.
The focal point for this visit is the economy. New jobs numbers come out today.
From Hyde Park, Bush heads to Aurora, the slice of the city represented in Congress by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), not House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)
He will talk about his "American Competitiveness Initiative'' at Cabot Microelectronics Corp. in Aurora, which makes something called flurries used by chipmakers. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is a former member of Cabot's board.
By 6 p.m. tonight, Bush will be back in the White House.
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