ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Bush darted across the country Friday to raise more than $1 million for a pair of political candidates, part of a stepped-up fundraising pace aimed at helping the GOP retain its majority in Congress.
On Friday, the president flew from the White House to Seattle for a two-and-a-half-hour visit to help freshman Rep. Dave Reichert and the state Republican Party raise more than $830,000. Then he traveled to New Mexico for a two-hour stop to raise $375,000 for Rep. Heather Wilson.
Reichert and Wilson represent districts that voted to make Democrat John Kerry president in 2004. Their districts are emblematic of a sticky situation Republicans find themselves in — although the president is the best fundraiser in the party, he isn’t the most popular figure for a candidate to stand with these days.
Opponents of candidates who ask for Bush’s help raising money sometimes try to use that against them.
“New Mexicans deserve a leader who will stand up to George Bush, not stand next to him for fundraisers and photo-ops,” said state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, Wilson’s Democratic challenger. Madrid added that Wilson has voted for Bush administration policy 88 percent of the time, including support for what she called “the disastrous war in Iraq.”
Later, as Bush stood with Wilson before 300 cheering supporters in a hotel ballroom, he tried to dismiss any notion she was beholden to him.
“You know I like strong women,” Bush said to laughter and applause from the donors who paid $1,000 to be there. “I was raised by one and I married one and I hope we’re raising two. They all listen and sometimes they do what you ask them to do and sometimes they don’t. Heather Wilson is an independent soul. That’s what you want from a person from this district.”
A ‘high demand’ president
Monday night, Bush is scheduled to appear before 5,000 donors in Washington for a dinner that is projected to raise $26 million for the GOP House and Senate campaign committees.
The numbers show that even though the president may be down in public opinion polls, Republicans are still willing to shell out big dollars to see him speak in person and support local GOP candidates. Both Reichert and Wilson live in districts that voted to make Democrat John Kerry president in 2004.
“The president is in high demand by our candidates across the country,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “He energizes and invigorates these campaigns like no one else can.”
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney said Republicans who appear with Bush at fundraisers are doing so at their own political risk.
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“The November elections will come down to one fundamental question for voters: Do you want change or more of the same?” Finney said. “By appearing with President Bush, these candidates are basically making it clear that all they can offer people they hope to serve is more of the same failed Bush policies.”
Helping the newcomers
Reichert, a former sheriff who highlights his centrist credentials in this Democratic-leaning state, issued a statement on the eve of the fundraiser, welcoming Bush’s assistance but maintaining a bit of political distance.
“Although the president and I don’t agree on everything, I have great respect for the tremendous responsibility the leader of the free world must bear every day,” Reichert said. He faces former Microsoft Corp. manager Darcy Burner, who has been a proficient fundraiser despite being a political newcomer.
Bush predicted this week that Republicans will maintain majority control of the House and Senate this November despite polls showing voters favor putting Democrats in charge.
While he has stayed in Texas almost all of August during previous years of his presidency, this summer Bush plans to spend less time at his ranch and more time on the road supporting candidates in the closely contested congressional races.
Cheney, Laura Bush help out
Other famous faces at the White House also have been doing their part. Vice President Dick Cheney has appeared at 66 events that have raised $22 million, while first lady Laura Bush has become much more comfortable on the fundraising circuit after doing very little travel in 2002. She has appeared at 20 events that have raised $9.7 million.
So far this election cycle, the Bushes, Cheney and others have raised $172.5 million for the cause. By the end of June 2002 they had raised $179 million.
Some have suggested that private fundraisers have been a convenience for candidates in districts where Bush is especially unpopular — allowing them to avoid appearing with the president while raking in his money. But Reichert flew with Bush aboard Air Force One and posed grinning and waving with him in front of news cameras upon arrival in Seattle.
The pair then rode in Bush’s motorcade to the wealthy, GOP-friendly suburb of Medina, where the fundraiser was held at the home of Microsoft executive Peter Neupert. It was closed to the media. Admission to the reception was set at $1,000, and individual photographs with the president cost $10,000.
Bush’s fundraiser for Wilson was to be held in an Albuquerque hotel ballroom and open to the media. Three hundred donors were expected to pay $1,000 per ticket, and photos with Bush were going for $5,000.
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