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THE NATION

Bush Shifts Focus Back to Election, Education

The president visits a school, then later adds $1.2million to his campaign. He declines to discuss his spending request for Iraq.

September 09, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

NASHVILLE — A day after warning the nation that U.S. involvement in Iraq would be longer and costlier than anticipated, President Bush on Monday turned his attention to his reelection campaign, collecting $1.2 million at a Tennessee fund-raising event.

He also stopped by a public school in a low-income area of Nashville to underscore his credentials as an education reformer.

After visiting with a small group of children and parents at Kirkpatrick Elementary School, the president gave his standard 18-minute education speech and then headed for a $2,000-a-plate reception at a downtown hotel.

Bush confined his remarks at the school entirely to education, leaving to other administration officials the task of answering questions about his request to Congress for $87 billion in new spending for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush is scheduled to travel to Florida today to attend fund-raising events in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale and deliver another education speech.

In Florida, the president is expected to pick up an additional $2.5 million, boosting his campaign war chest to about $50 million, by most estimates.

For the second quarter, which ended June 30, the Bush campaign reported $34.4 million in contributions. Campaign officials would not provide a running total, referring reporters to the next reporting period in October when all campaigns are to report their third-quarter collections.

But there is little doubt that Bush is well on the way to breaking his own record for collecting contributions to presidential campaigns. His strategists expect to raise at least $170 million for use in the primary season -- even though Bush faces no opposition for the Republican Party nomination. In 2000, Bush set a fund-raising record by collecting more than $100 million.

By appearing at official events here and in Jacksonville, the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign can shift a significant portion of the travel costs to the taxpayer-funded White House budget -- a practice that hardly originated with the current administration.

But by speaking about education in both states, Bush also invited a new round of attacks on his education bona fides from Democratic lawmakers, led on Monday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of Martinez, Calif. The pair worked closely with the president to secure congressional passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, but now part company with Bush on the issue.

Democrats accuse Bush of not living up to his commitment to education reform by providing sufficient funding for states to carry out testing requirements mandated by the law.

"No amount of soothing rhetoric by the president can hide the fact that he refuses to fund the bipartisan school reforms he signed into law with great fanfare a year and a half ago," Kennedy said.

"Those reforms will never happen without increasing the funds needed to pay for them. It's long past time for the president to live up to his clear promise that the funds will be provided."

But in his remarks at the Nashville school, Bush said his budget for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. "That's a 26% increase since I took office," he told about 125 school officials and guests in a small auditorium.

Bush also hailed Kirkpatrick Elementary for making a special effort to inform parents of the options available if their children qualify for certain remedial services, such as tutorials and after-school programs.

"You see, if you measure and then don't provide extra help, the measurement system is empty," he said. "If you measure, determine who needs help and then provide the extra help, we have done our duty as adults to provide the skills necessary for children to succeed in life. And that's what this school is doing."

Bush then called on other states to follow the Nashville school's lead.

Today Bush is scheduled to visit a Jacksonville, Fla., school that has steadily improved its standardized test scores in the last three years.

At the reception, Bush delivered his standard fund-raising speech, including his oft-repeated determination to press on with the war on terrorism.

"This country will not rest, we will not tire, we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed," Bush said.

He did not discuss, as he did in his Sunday night address to the nation, the cost or the duration of the ongoing U.S. role in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

In thanking about 600 donors at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Bush recalled the closely contested 2000 presidential election.

"Without Tennessee, there'd be no George W. Bush," the president said, meaning that Democrat Al Gore would be president if he had carried his home state of Tennessee.

The fund-raiser was held in the same ballroom that served as Gore's election night headquarters in 2000.

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