From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Lauren Appelbaum, and Carrie Dann
If it's Friday, it's another round of weekend travel by the presidential hopefuls. Among the events to watch: Hillary Clinton's trip to Iowa tomorrow and Sunday -- her first to the Hawkeye State since 2003; Mitt Romney's own three stops there today; Rudy Giuliani's appearance in Bretton Woods, NH tonight and his keynote address tomorrow at the New Hampshire GOP convention; and Bill Richardson's Saturday visit at a Nevada Democratic fundraiser. Also, the National Review Institute's three-day "Conservative Summit" in DC begins today, and it will include speeches on Saturday by Romney, Newt Gingrich, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
President Bush, meanwhile, has returned to Washington after spending the last two days stumping for the energy and health-care proposals he unveiled in his State of the Union address. As of this writing, he's meeting with his top Pentagon brass, including David Petraeus, who will receive a full Senate vote later this morning on his nomination to be the top US commander in Iraq. After that, Bush will deliver remarks to House Republicans at their retreat in Cambridge, MD.
On Day Three after his State of the Union, however, it's still worth pointing out that Bush didn't once mention Hurricane Katrina or the ongoing Gulf Coast recovery in his 50-minute, 5,000-word address. It's a sharp departure for a president who declared in September 2005 that it would be "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." And who mentioned it in last year's SOTU, saying: "A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency -- and stays at it until they're back on their feet."
In large part, the absence is a reflection of just how much the Iraq war has overshadowed American politics and Bush's presidency. It's also a sign that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are being rebuilt, although there's still much more to be done there. And it's more evidence of how some of the biggest stories (anyone remember the Iraq Study Group's recommendations?) are often forgotten. Last March, one issue at a Republican presidential cattle call in Memphis was whether some of the candidates were going to visit the battered Gulf Coast.
The Administration's botched response to Katrina helped undermine Republican claims to being the party that knows how to govern -- doing as much to damage the party brand as the growth in spending and the size of government under the GOP's watch. It was also a setback for the party's efforts to reach out to African Americans.
But the absence hasn't been entirely a Republican affair. Katrina recovery wasn't part of the House Democrats' initial "Six for '06" rollout. Sen. Jim Webb said in his State of the Union response that Democrats are serious about "addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans" -- but it was just one sentence of his speech. Even John Edwards, who announced his presidential bid last month from New Orleans and often talks about Katrina, didn't mention it in his statement criticizing Bush's State of the Union. That said, Edwards was in the city on Wednesday and did an online chat from there. And Barack Obama will be there on Monday, when he attends a Senate field hearing on Katrina.
However, Katrina will likely re-emerge as the Democratic presidential nominating contest heats up, especially for Edwards and Obama. And, locally, it will certainly be on display in this year's contest for Louisiana governor (in which embattled Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco will face a rematch from GOP Rep. Bobby Jindal), as well as during Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) bid for re-election next year.