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Scandals stymie W's momentum

THOMAS M. DeFRANK / NY Daily News | October 9 2006

WASHINGTON - Suddenly, like the fierce "blue northers" that sweep across Texas each autumn, the political winds have turned bleaker for Republicans - and President Bush's private mood has blackened accordingly.

Just two weeks ago, as gasoline prices plummeted and his tough-talking terror counterattack began moving poll numbers his way, Bush turned bullish on the November elections.

"He's on scent and he's driving hard," a longtime political confidant of the President reported early this month. "He's got the microphone and thinks he's controlling the political debate."

First Lady Laura Bush, who is even more in demand than her husband on the political stump this cycle, also was telling aides she thought the tide had finally turned.

Now, however, friends, aides and close political allies tell the Daily News Bush is furious with his own side for helping create a political downdraft that has blunted his momentum and endangered GOP prospects for keeping control of Congress next month.

Some of his anger is directed at former aides who helped Watergate journalist Bob Woodward paint a lurid portrait of a dysfunctional, chaotic administration in his new book, "State of Denial."

In the obsessively private Bush clan, talking out of school is the ultimate act of disloyalty, and Bush feels betrayed from within.

"He's ticked off big-time," said a well-informed source, "even if what they said was the truth."

[Curiously, former chief of staff Andrew Card, who according to Woodward wanted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sacked, rode along on Air Force One with his former boss for the christening of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush in Virginia yesterday.]

Moreover, Bush's personal disgust with the GOP sex scandal involving ex-Rep. Mark Foley has exacerbated his already-strained relations with congressional Republicans. While publicly embracing House Speaker Dennis Hastert, sources close to Bush say he thinks Hastert and other GOP House leaders have bungled their handling of the Foley affair and look like they've been engaged in a coverup.

Bush has complained, these sources said, that the scandal torpedoes furious GOP efforts to reenergize a dispirited political base - especially Christian conservatives.

"There's steam coming out of his ears over the Foley thing," someone who talks to the President regularly said. "The base is starting to get turned off again."

For all the misery, Bush remains defiantly resolute. He will campaign relentlessly in the next month and has told friends he's determined to prove his Democratic and media enemies wrong on Election Day.

Bush is less worried about his standing with history, telling aides that George Washington's legacy is still being debated two centuries later. But he understands that losing one chamber of Congress will cripple his lame duck-weakened final two years.

"He's remarkably optimistic," a Bush insider said. "Like Ronald Reagan, he has a gift for looking beyond the morass in front of him and sticking to his goals, even if it's not popular."

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