PORTLAND (AP) – President Bush’s chief of staff paid a visit to Maine, but it was not to stump for his boss.

Andrew Card avoided references to the presidential race and Democratic challenger John Kerry when he delivered a 40-minute address to the Portland Regional Chamber on Monday.

Instead, Card spoke about the Constitution, his job as the president’s top adviser and about the importance of being engaged in civic life.

Meeting with reporters after his speech, Card said Thursday’s presidential debates will be extremely important, but that “the debates alone will not determine” the election. He said the president is well prepared for the debate, and that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has been playing the role of Kerry during the president’s preparations.

Card, who owns property in Poland, rejected a suggestion a day earlier by Al Franken, the satirist and author, that the president flip-flopped on issues such as an independent 9/11 commission, free trade and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Al Franken does not necessarily speak for America,” he said. “The president has been strong and steady.”

The closest Card came to putting in a plug for the president was when he described Bush’s reaction to the worst news Card has had to deliver: “A second plane hit the second tower,” Card whispered into the president’s ear on Sept. 11, 2001. “America is under attack.”

“I watched as the president did exactly the right thing. He reacted with cool, calm patience,” Card said. “He did not demonstrate any fear … His leadership was strong, his resolve was real.”

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