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Bush Dives Into Race With $3.5-Million Event

Saying that he came to solve the nation's problems, the president exudes confidence at his first of many planned reelection fund-raisers.

June 18, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush opened his drive for a second term Tuesday night, telling supporters at his first reelection fund-raiser that his work is not done.

"In 2 1/2 years, we've come far, yet our work is only beginning," the president said at a $2,000-per-person reception at a Washington hotel. "Your support is going to help us achieve a strong nationwide victory."

The event raised $3.5 million, said Nicolle Devenish, the Bush campaign's communications director -- the opening salvo in a fund-raising blitz that is expected to garner at least $175 million for the campaign between now and the GOP national convention that convenes Aug. 30, 2004.

Although his 29-minute address included huge chunks of his standard stump speech, covering such priorities as tax cuts, tort reform and prescription drug coverage for seniors, Bush also sounded some key themes that will likely anchor his reelection pitch to the American public, including an actively interventionist foreign policy.

Seeking to extend a presidency defined by the Sept. 11 attacks -- and by America's muscular response -- Bush made clear that he intends to keep pursuing those who would harm the United States.

"The war on terror continues. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we," he said. "The country will not rest, we will not tire and we will not stop until the danger to the free world is removed."

At one point, the president sounded almost boastful as he declared: "I came to this office to solve problems, not to pass them on to other presidents and other generations. I came to seize opportunities, and not let them slip away.

"We are meeting the tests of our time. Terrorists declared war on the United States and war is what they got."

Exuding determination and confidence, Bush rededicated himself not only to combating terrorism but also to spreading democracy around the world.

"Across this world it has never been more clear that the future of freedom and peace depend on the actions of America," Bush said. "This nation is freedom's home and freedom's defender. We welcome this charge of history and we will keep this charge of history."

On the domestic front, the president vowed to press his "compassionate conservative" agenda, embodied by his stalled proposal to channel federal funds to religious organizations that provide social services.

"We have great goals worthy of this great nation," Bush said. "I will continue to advance our agenda of compassionate conservatism, applying the best and most innovative ideas to the task of helping our fellow citizens in need."

The president touted a litany of progress made under his watch, such as trade expansion, education reform, tax cuts, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

"On issue after issue we acted on principle. We kept our word," he said. "And we made progress for the American people."

As he reflected on his tenure to date, Bush suggested that he was the right man at the right time.

"All the tests of the last 2 1/2 years have come to the right nation. We're a strong country and we will use that strength to defend the peace," the president said. "This is the work that history has set before us. We welcome it, and we know that, for our country, better days lie ahead."

Throughout the reception, donors stood and milled about the gigantic Washington Hilton ballroom as waiters served hot dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers.

"It's the best $2,000 hamburger I've ever had," said Robin Angle, a business consultant.

Earlier in the day, the White House defended the president's intense fund-raising drive this month -- seven events, including Tuesday's, before the end of June -- and sought to portray the projected take of about $20 million as a sign of deep public support for Bush.

"The president is preparing for his reelection. And part of the preparation is, of course, to raise money from Republicans and others who support his candidacy across the country," Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

The White House announced Tuesday that three additional fund-raisers in Detroit, Dallas and Houston have been scheduled in late July, just before Bush decamps to his ranch near Crawford, Texas, for the month of August.

Bush holds the campaign fund-raising record of $101 million, achieved for the 2000 election. Then, he competed against an array of challengers for the party's nomination; now, he faces no opposition. But Fleischer insisted that Bush has good reason to raise, and spend, such vast sums.

"Every day, there are nine Democratic candidates who are running against the president, saying negative things about the president. And part of the president's efforts next year will be to rebut the statements that will increasingly be made about the president," Fleischer said.

The expected record-shattering fund-raising drive "is probably a good indication that the president has a strong amount of support throughout the country," Fleischer said. "Otherwise he would not be successful in this endeavor."

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