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Bush Cites War in Letter Seeking Campaign Funds

President tells backers he needs to focus on the duties of his office, as foreign and domestic matters will limit his chances to raise money.

May 25, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — In a fund-raising letter to more than a million supporters, President Bush warns that next year's presidential election "could be close" and links his role as a wartime commander to the political imperatives of seeking reelection.

"Our country has faced many tests and accomplished a great deal. But we still have so much more to do to make our world more peaceful," Bush writes in a two-page letter dated May 16, the day he filed papers for reelection.

"We have no more urgent and important duty than to wage and win the war on terrorism," he says in the letter.

The president's first direct appeal for campaign donations marks the start of an intense period of personal fund-raising that could lead to as much as a record $200 million in contributions for his reelection campaign.

To help reach that goal, "Bush-Cheney '04 Inc." will rely heavily on two tiers of money-raising volunteers: "Rangers," who raise at least $200,000 each, and "Pioneers," who raise at least $100,000 each.

In 2000, Bush set a record by raising more than $100 million as he captured the Republican nomination in a crowded field, relying heavily on the efforts of his "Pioneers."

For Bush this time around, a potential downside as he commences a concerted fund-raising drive is that he opens himself up to partisan attack. And by overtly exploiting his wartime popularity for partisan gain, he may be handing Democrats just the sort of ammunition they have been coveting.

It is hardly surprising that Bush would invoke, in his reelection bid, the image of a commander in chief relentlessly waging a war on terrorism.

"His greatest advantage for '04 is that he's the incumbent and, as such, he can pretend to be absorbed by the great matters of state," said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.

"It's also a game all incumbents play with the American people and the press. But it's not true 95% of every day," Sabato said. "Every president is mostly interested in his own reelection."

Bush made his first post-Iraq war fund-raising appearance Wednesday night, speaking at an annual GOP gala that raised $22 million for Republican congressional campaign committees.

Next month, the president is scheduled to attend at least seven Bush-Cheney fund-raisers, including one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles on June 27.

In a separate appeal, Bush's national finance chairman, Mercer Reynolds, sent a letter to the "Pioneers" last week urging them to participate again.

"Our goal is to host a special event with the president for all Pioneers who reach at least the 50% mark by June 30," Reynolds wrote, according to Associated Press. "Your quick response and immediate effort are important."

At the White House, the sense of urgency in raising campaign contributions is driven by the array of pressing foreign and domestic issues confronting the president.

These include not only the ongoing war against terrorism but also the difficult reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Moreover, Bush increasingly is turning his attention to the peace process in the Middle East and the rising tension in East Asia over North Korea's nuclear development program.

At the same time, the president is working doggedly to demonstrate to voters his concern about a weak economy.

As White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledged last week, Bush has "a limited window in which he can participate in his own direct political affairs."

The president is spending this holiday weekend at his ranch near Crawford. He leaves Friday to attend a meeting of the industrialized nations in Evian, France, and is likely to go from there to the Persian Gulf region to visit U.S. troops.

In his appeal for donations, Bush specifically asks for $100 or $50, but notes in the very next sentence: "The new federal election law allows donations of up to $2,000 a person or $4,000 a couple."

Then Bush adds:

"It will be months before Democrats settle on a candidate, but the election could be close. The strength of our grass-roots effort will determine the outcome. I need help from friends now."

And the president makes no bones about his intention to keep the public spotlight on his White House duties, not his political activities, saying:

"My responsibilities as president will require me to focus primarily on our nation's business for most of the next year. I will be depending on friends and supporters like you to get my campaign organized and operating across our country."

In a postscript, Bush adds:

"Your early support with a contribution would be a strong vote of confidence in my leadership and would help get my campaign off to a good start."

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