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Bush spending little time in Washington
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Aug. 4: Davenport, Iowa. President Bush eats a raw ear of sweet corn during an impromptu stop of his motorcade at a local farmers market, after a campaign rally in Davenport. (Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington D.C. — (AP) - If you're looking for President Bush, don't bother searching the White House.

Bush has not spent a full day in Washington since Aug. 2 - roaming the country rather than staying in the Oval Office as he seeks a second term.

On Wednesday, he'll break a 44-day, outside-the-Beltway streak to host a concert and reception at the White House in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. But not for long: He's back on the road the next day, on a campaign swing that brings him to Minnesota again.

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Image Aug. 2: Washington

On Aug. 2, Bush stayed in town for a Rose Garden appearance in which he announced his support for a national intelligence chief and establishment of a national counterterrorism center.

In between, Bush visited 21 states in 44 days, including three stays at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and some time at his family's home on the Maine coast.

But most of the travel has been to the dozen or so states where he and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry are fighting the hardest - six trips to Ohio, five to Pennsylvania, four each to Iowa, Florida, Michigan and West Virginia, and twice to Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Though the recent flurry has been particularly intense, it is representative of a brutal schedule for most of the year that is nothing new for presidents seeking re-election.

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Image Aug. 18: Wisconsin

The number of presidential travel days has been in double digits every month since February. And Bush has spent just a handful of full days in Washington all summer long - just 10 since Memorial Day.

Bush aides, always loath to acknowledge political calculation behind the president's decisions or schedule, say the travel is nothing more than a continuation of normal practice.

"The president has always traveled outside of Washington to discuss his agenda with people across the country," Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. "As the election approaches, the president is enjoying talking about the issues facing the nation, his record of accomplishment and his vision for the future."

But the reason Bush is such a road warrior is clear: Political Campaigns 101 tells candidates from junior high class president wannabes to White House seekers that they've got to get out among their constituency - especially as election day nears - to have any hope of winning.

"I'm here to ask for your vote, that's what I'm doing today," Bush said Monday at a campaign rally in Holland, Mich., using a line he repeats in virtually every speech. "I believe you've got to get out amongst the people and ask for the vote."

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Image Aug. 18: Minnesota

Add to that the often-favorable local media coverage a president gets on such visits and the modern-day necessity for politicians to espouse a dislike for all things Washington, and you have a recipe for plane-hopping.

There's likely more to it as well, said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at George Washington University in Washington.

"Beside the obvious reasons, he does seem to enjoy it," Hess said. "This fellow, more than almost anyone I've seen, doesn't want to be fenced in."

Indeed, Bush seems to bask in the attention from the supporters-only crowds he speaks to on the road. And a venue that the Bush campaign uses frequently - the "Ask President Bush" format in which the president, mike in hand, casually and with lots of humor, interacts with his audience - plays to his strengths as a campaigner.

In a switch from earlier in the year or last year, the vast majority of Bush's trips this summer have been openly declared to be campaign-related. Previously, "official" White House appearances were arranged in key electoral states or tacked onto days that also included a campaign event. That allowed Bush - like other presidents before him - to travel at least partly at taxpayer expense.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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