President Bush rolled out a powerful political weapon Tuesday in his quest to boost sagging approval ratings and get re-elected: his wife.
Laura Bush stumped at her first solo campaign rally on behalf of husband George W. Bush, tackling sensitive issues such as the war in Iraq and the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.
"We must be vigilant in protecting the rights of all Iraqis," she said during a 15-minute speech. "The pictures we saw recently from the Abu Ghraib prison do not reflect the character of our troops. The vast majority of our military has conducted themselves with honor and compassion."
She spoke to a rally at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earning thunderous applause and cheers of "Four More Years" from a ticketed crowd of more than 1,000.
Some people held placards reading, "W Stands for Women."
"I'm really proud to be here to ask you to help us re-elect George W. Bush," she said. "I know that you see what I see: The president is a steady leader during these historic times."
A Newsweek poll released over the weekend put the president's overall job approval at 42 percent, the lowest yet in that poll, and public opinion specialists say the war in Iraq is taking a toll.
The first lady described the past three years in the White House as challenging, but said the president has the "courage and character to meet the demand of this time."
Thanks to her husband's efforts, she said, 50 million more men, women and children live in freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"In Iraq, the men and women of our military, along with allies from many nations, toppled Saddam Hussein's government and liberated the Iraqi people. They're building a democracy."
Her speech didn't deal exclusively with the president's foreign affairs agenda. She said her husband had brought "dignity and respect" to the White House, and she promoted the president's tax cuts that Democrats have derided as irresponsible.
"Thanks to the president's tax relief plan, millions of families are keeping more of their own money and deciding how to use it," she said.
The first lady also showed a sense of humor, something Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry has been accused of lacking.
"When George asked me to marry him he promised I'd never have to give a political speech and I promised I would go jogging with him every day," the first lady said. "Since then I've given a lot of speeches but I've never done any jogging."
While Laura Bush has been an active fund-raiser, this was the first rally she has headlined, campaign spokeswoman Alison Harden said.
"You can expect to see a lot more of Mrs. Bush as the election continue," Harden said.
The first lady was introduced by Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton.
Newton didn't sing but he did poke fun at Kerry, calling him a combination of a human mouth and horse's backside.
The first lady, who has visited Nevada twice in the past four months, said the state and it's five electoral votes were crucial to re-electing her husband.
Later she was scheduled to attend a private fund-raiser in Las Vegas. Earlier, the first lady began her day with a fund-raiser in Sioux Falls, S.D.
She left a good impression on some in the audience.
"She's a great lady," said Willa Murray, 69.
Others said the Kerry campaign should be worried about the first lady stumping around the country.
"If they're not, they should be," Anne Killoran, 64, said.
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