In the past month, Secretary of Education Rod Paige has dribbled a basketball with students in Raleigh, N.C., stopped in Philadelphia to pick up a replica of Drexel University’s dragon mascot, and lunched with Asian-Americans in Washington state.
As the clock ticks down to Election Day next week, Cabinet secretaries are fanning out across the country to give awards and announce grants that in a nonelection season might warrant only a press release.
The recent travels of top Bush administration appointees have drawn criticism from Democrats, much of it aimed at the president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The Washington Post reported last week that Ms. Rice had made numerous recent speeches in states that are battlegrounds in the race for the White House—a change from her typical schedule.
Secretary Paige has been traveling the country as well, as he always does, said Susan Aspey, a Department of Education spokeswoman.
“Education is an outside-the-Beltway issue, and the secretary continues to travel the nation discussing No Child Left Behind and closing the achievement gap,” she said.
Mr. Paige’s itinerary for the past month has included visits to presidential swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, but also to states such as North Carolina, which political analysts say is leaning to President Bush, and Washington state, which they say is leaning to Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee.
On Oct. 11 at Drexel, Mr. Paige touted the No Child Left Behind Act. He returned to the City of Brotherly Love on Oct. 19 for a stop at a church in a low-income South Philadelphia neighborhood, where he told parents in the audience that the No Child Left Behind law would help their children’s schools improve.On Sept. 27, he surprised a 3rd grade Cabell County, W.Va., teacher with an American Star of Teaching award. The appearance rated a front-page story in The Herald-Dispatch, which also serves readers in southern Ohio.
Mr. Paige had already been in Ohio on Sept. 10, presenting an achievement award to Cleveland’s Louisa May Alcott Elementary School.
“It’s very common for a secretary to be out and about,” said Jack Jennings the director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy and a former Democratic congressional aide. “But if it’s a month before the election and he happens to be going to states where the president needs help, you have to raise questions about whether it’s appropriate.”