WASHINGTON (CNN)-- In the waning days of the election season, as both parties campaignfervently for their candidates, one man has been notably absent --President George W. Bush.
Reporters began asking questions immediately after the White Houseschedule last week noted Bush had no public events Friday throughMonday, and would spend most of his time at Camp David.
"Thepresident is pretty focused on the activities that we have here,especially getting this economy back in order," White House PressSecretary Dana Perino said Wednesday.
"We canceled a lot of our fundraisers, and he's going to focus on being with Mrs. Bush and others this weekend at Camp David."
But Perino couldn't list any fundraisers that had been canceled recently.
Friday, Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto offered a more detailed explanation.
"The truth is we're also trying to stay out of the public limelightduring this period of the election season," said Fratto. "There are twoindividuals out there running to be president of the United States, and we don't want to complicate that for them."
Political experts acknowledge the reality that a lame-duck presidentwith record low approval ratings -- 28 percent according to the latestCNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll -- is a political liability forRepublican presidential candidate John McCain.
"These are allpoliticians who are running for office. They all read the polls. Theyall have their finger wetted and up to see where the breeze isblowing," said Stephen Hess, a veteran staffer of the Eisenhower andNixon administrations and an adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter."You can be sure that if George W. Bush was more popular, he'd be outthere."
The numbers tell the story.
Of the 46 fundraisers President Bush attended this year, only four were open to cameras -- and those were events raising money for the Republican Party.
The last time Bush appeared at a public fundraiser stumping for an individual candidate was August 27, 2007.
And the four fundraisers the president attended for Republican nominee John McCain have all been closed to the news media.
It's a stark contrast to the farewell campaign tour of the lasttwo-term GOP president, Ronald Reagan, who left office with one of thehighest approval ratings ever at the end of a presidency -- 64 percent.
Reagan embarked on a marathon coast-to-coast campaign swing for GeorgeH.W. Bush, the current president's father, during the final weekend ofcampaign '88.
"We went to battleground states, not safeRepublican states. We went to Illinois. We went to Ohio. We went toMissouri. We went to Pennsylvania," said Ken Duberstein, who wasReagan's chief of staff.
A young George W. Bush attended theNovember 5 Reagan campaign rally in Mesquite, Texas, the Saturdaybefore Americans went to the polls that year.
"It was a celebration," recalls Duberstein. "It wasn't simply a victory lap. It was almost a thank-you tour."
Duberstein, who is planning to vote for Barack Obama, said it must bedifficult for the current President Bush to have seen that and knowhe'll never get one of his own.
"Yes, there might be some sadness today or tomorrow because he islike a good political thoroughbred. He wants to be out there running,"Duberstein observed. "But sometimes you have to stay in the stable."
Bush is expected to remain out of sight until after the election. Heand first lady Laura Bush have already voted by absentee ballot.They'll spend Tuesday evening at the White House with friends watchingthe results come in, said Perino.