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Bush Picks Up $5.2 Million in a Busy Day of Fund-Raising for '04

The president draws plenty of donors--and protesters--at appearances in Century City and the Bay Area.

June 28, 2003|Edwin Chen and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Amid raucous protests, President Bush collected more than $5.2 million for his reelection campaign in two brief California appearances Friday, part of a two-week blitz that is expected to help him shatter the fund-raising record for a White House campaign.

Six weeks after declaring his intention to seek reelection, Bush is poised to collect as much as $30 million by the end of June -- roughly the same amount raised by all nine Democratic candidates in the first quarter of the year.

"I'm grateful that you're laying the groundwork for what will be a great national victory in 2004," Bush told the 1,800 supporters who turned out for a $3.6-million dinner fund-raiser in Century City on Friday night. Attendees included former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr., Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and actor Kelsey Grammer. Tickets went for $2,000 and up.

Meanwhile, an equal number of demonstrators lined the Avenue of the Stars outside, banging drums and chanting "Impeach Bush" as limousines pulled up to the Century Plaza Hotel. Members of the crowd -- a mix of Aztec dancers and anarchists, teenagers and the elderly -- waved signs protesting the war in Iraq and the president's tax cut plan. "Bush Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction," read one banner.

The president was also dogged by protesters during a lunchtime stop in San Francisco.

The demonstrations suggest that California still looms as challenging political turf for the president, who lost the state to former Vice President Al Gore by 12 percentage points in 2000.

"I oppose Bush and all of his tactics," protester Betty Norton, 77, said as she waved a red "Stop Bush" sign. The money spent on the war with Iraq "should go to health care and our problems here at home," she added.

The White House dismissed the protests.

"This is not really new; there have been large protests before," said presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer. "It's a free country."

Bush made no mention of the demonstrators during his 20-minute speech Friday night as he heralded the administration's efforts to fight terrorism and stimulate the economy.

"In the last 2 1/2 years, we have come far, but our work is only beginning," he said.

The president's two Friday events closed a week bracketed by political pilgrimages to the nation's two most populous states, which he lost to Gore by a total of 2.7 million votes in 2000. In New York on Monday, Bush raised $4 million.

By staging high-profile campaign events in both states, especially this far before the election, Bush is signaling his intention to harness his wartime popularity in hopes of making stronger showings in New York and California next year.

"Both New York and California are still longshots for Bush, but if he is even competitive in one of those states, it will cause the Democrats to waste money, and probably signal that the election is moving in Bush's direction," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

During his swing through California, Bush shied away from the topic dominating political discussion in the state: the drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis. In Los Angeles, he noted the presence of Issa, who is leading the recall charge, but said nothing about the governor.

It was left to comedian Dennis Miller, who appeared at the San Francisco and Los Angeles events, to address the subject roiling political circles.

"It's no longer the San Andreas fault; it's Gray Davis' fault," Miller said to hearty laughter and applause.

In his remarks, Bush covered no new ground as he delivered his usual political stump speech with considerable fervor, focusing largely on the war on terrorism and his domestic agenda -- above all his efforts to stimulate the economy.

The president also touted the expected final approval soon by Congress of new prescription drug coverage for senior citizens, hailing it as a manifestation of the bipartisan cooperation that he had vowed to bring to Washington. "On issue after issue, this administration has acted on principle, has kept its word, and is making progress on behalf of the American people," he said. "The United States Congress shares in these great achievements."

Bush also renewed his demand for medical liability reform, saying that frivolous lawsuits drive up health-care costs. And he called on unidentified Senate Democrats to "stop playing politics with American justice" and allow up-or-down votes on his judicial nominations.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry picked up the endorsement Friday of state Controller Steve Westly, who called the Massachusetts senator the best candidate to boost the economy and create jobs. Earlier in the week, Kerry was endorsed by state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who said he had broad appeal and an ability to beat Bush.

"If the 2004 presidential race is competitive at all, Democrats should still carry California and New York without too much difficulty," said Charlie Cook, a Washington-based political analyst.

After a weekend at his Texas ranch, Bush will return to the fund-raising trail Monday, making appearances in Miami and Tampa, Fla. He also has three fund-raisers on his calendar for July.

Together, the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and First Lady Laura Bush expect to raise $170 million or more -- all to be used between now and September 2004, when Bush is to be renominated at the Republican National Convention in New York City.

After speaking at the Century Plaza Hotel, Bush departed quickly for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He began his day in Washington, where he spoke about the debut of a national registry for those wishing to block unsolicited telemarketing calls.

Some aides had tried to persuade Bush to spend the night in Los Angeles, but he was determined to sleep in his own bed. As he said in San Francisco, referring to Mrs. Bush: "I will see her tonight in Crawford, Texas. Well, she'll be the lump in the bed next to me, since I get in at 1:30 a.m. in the morning."

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