President Bush will return to the Valley on Wednesday as part of a multistate tour to pitch the initiatives he outlines in his State of the Union address, White House officials confirmed Friday.
Though details of the event have not been released, the president will deliver a speech in Phoenix and stay in the Valley overnight before continuing on to New Mexico, said Taylor Gross, a White House spokesman.
It will be Bush’s seventh visit to Arizona since taking office. He was last in the state in November, when he attended a fundraising event and spoke at a senior citizens center to tout prescription drug benefits that had just been app roved by Congress.
The president’s stop Wednesday comes less than a week after Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to veterans Thursday in Mesa. It also will be less than two weeks before Arizona Democrats go to the polls to vote in their presidential primary Feb. 3.
While the president’s trip is considered an official visit unrelated to his 2004 reelection campaign, the attention he is paying to Arizona shows the Bush team considers Arizona a state he cannot take for granted, said Bruce Merrill, a Valley pollster and communications professor at Arizona State University.
"The fact that they brought him in after bringing in Cheney shows how important Arizona is," Merrill said, noting Bush has been courting seniors and Hispanics, both of which are sizeable voting blocs in the state. "There’s a whole bunch of things that converge to make Arizona increasingly important."
A poll released earlier in the week by the Behavior Research Center showed that in hypothetical matchups against the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bush held a lead of between 12 and 16 points in Arizona. That shows the president is strong here, but not unbeatable, according to Earl de Berge, research director for the center.
Jim Pederson, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said back-to-back visits by Cheney and Bush show the Republican administration considers Arizona to be in play in November.
"Arizona is a targeted state," Pederson said. "Every map I’ve seen, on both Republican and Democratic sides, indicates that Arizona is kind of a must-win state for either side. It’s pegged as an official visit, but I think the primary reason is political."
Bob Fannin, chairman of the state Republican Party, discounted the notion that Bush’s trip has political overtones, or that Republicans think they’re in trouble in Arizona.
Bush has made numerous stops in Arizona since taking office, both political and official, Fannin said. He’s made more stops in Arizona on official business than many of the Democratic candidates have made in their campaigns, Fannin said.
"The president remains strong in Arizona," Fannin said. "The president is going to treat all of the states as states where they need to work hard, to not take for granted. (It’s) not panic. But it’s certainly not inattention either."
Gross said details such as where the president will speak and whether the public will be allowed to attend either have not been finalized or are not being released yet. Bush will deliver the State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, outlining his priorities for the coming congressional session. He will then travel to Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico to promote his plans, Gross said.