NEW YORK – Roland Martin reeled in a big one for his weekly fishing show on the Outdoor Life Network.

Baiting a hook beside him on a dock in Crawford, Texas, was President Bush, whose leisurely afternoon casting for bass was chronicled for “Fishing with Roland Martin” in an episode that first aired on Friday. (It re-airs Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EDT.)

If you’re wondering what the leader of the free world is doing fishing on an obscure cable TV show, you don’t know politics. In a tight presidential campaign, the candidates seek any edge they can get, and will find it all over the TV dial.

Both Bush and Democrat John Kerry want to seem like regular guys so voters can relate to them, said Scott Reed, a Republican political consultant who ran Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.

“The number of folks that fish is off the chart,” Reed said. “It reminds you that he’s a normal guy who spends his leisure time doing the things that we do.”

Undecided voters are more likely to be spending Sunday mornings on their boat than in front of “Meet the Press,” he said.

That’s why Reed kept sending Dole to NASCAR races during the 1996 campaign.

“People are voting for the person, more so than any other political office,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic aide who was press secretary to Vice President Al Gore. “It comes down to a comfort level with the person you’re going to choose.”

Bush also recently gave an interview to ESPN, and the sports network is using the sound bites for its series about the top moments in sports over the past 25 years.

Not to be outdone, Kerry showed up to throw out the first ball in Fenway Park at a Yankees-Red Sox game that was being televised nationally by ESPN.

With both candidates coming from privileged backgrounds, they’re likely to seek more opportunities to demonstrate their likability, the political strategists said.

“The next step in the process is you’ll see candidates doing the various cooking shows at 11 o’clock on a Friday night,” Lehane said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE – David Bauder can be reached at dbauder”at”

AP-ES-08-06-04 1305EDT

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