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THE NATION

Bush Still Serves as GOP's Fundraiser in Chief

A sitting president is always a big draw. This one reaches beyond the party's top politicians to campaign on behalf of its House candidates.

October 01, 2006|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush has raised more than $180 million for the Republican Party and its candidates since he was reelected -- an average of more than $261,000 per day. And now, the pace is picking up.

This week, he begins a Western fundraising trip: Monday in Reno; Tuesday in Stockton, El Dorado County and Bel-Air; and Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Englewood, Colo.

Among the beneficiaries in California will be Reps. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) and John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville). Each has had ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and each was considered vulnerable earlier in the campaign. But both represent Republican-leaning districts, and their standings are believed to have improved.

Bush's trip is part of what aides say will be an active travel schedule as the November elections approach. Although the president himself is not on any ballot, the results Nov. 7 could go a long way toward determining the outcome of his final two years in office.

If Democrats wind up with a net gain of six Senate seats, they win control of the Senate; in the House, a pickup of 15 seats would turn the chamber over to the Democrats.

"If the Democrats take over, it will make life much worse" for Bush, said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at UC San Diego. "Democrats will start talking about accountability, investigating management of the war in Iraq, and there will be endless headaches for him."

Bush will spend more time campaigning for GOP candidates in these weeks before election day, aides said. The White House continues to receive more requests for Bush's time as a campaigner than he can meet, said Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino. "Supply is not keeping up with demand," she said.

Bush has never been reluctant to stick his hand out and ask for money for the GOP. Over nearly six years in office, he has done so more than 200 times.

The result in just the current 2005-2006 campaign cycle has been a gross of $182 million as of Thursday, said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

Vice President Dick Cheney has brought in an additional $38 million, and Laura Bush $13 million.

To put the money chase into perspective, as of midSeptember, the major Republican fundraising operations -- the National Committee and the committees overseeing party campaigns for the Senate and House -- reported that they had brought in $369 million in the two-year cycle. By comparison, the Democrats' groups reported $264 million.

Bush's fundraising helped build the GOP groups' total, but some of the money he raised went to other outlets, such as state Republican organizations, gubernatorial candidates and individual candidates for Congress.

Presidents have long been top-draw political fundraisers. What is different now is the mix of candidates for whom Bush is working.

Until recently, presidents generally restricted their fundraising to gala affairs for their national parties and the occasional gubernatorial or Senate candidate -- the top dogs in the political world.

But Bush is making the pitch further down the ticket, for Republican House members. This year, he campaigned for five non-incumbents -- candidates who in the past would have been lucky to have drawn a vice president or a leader in the Senate or House.

It used to be that "every once in a while a president went out and did a House race," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine. But throughout Bush's presidency, he said, House races have been on the agenda -- even more than under President Clinton, an inveterate campaigner.

This reflects the possibility that Democrats will seize the majority in November's election, and the threat that could pose to Bush's final two years in office.

Given that Bush's approval ratings are in the low 40s in many polls, there is debate about whether the presidential visits help Republican candidates in tightly contested districts.

But Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican running for governor of Colorado, said Bush remained a campaign asset.

"He is the president, after all, and there's only one of them. And I think the mood of the general public is very much starting to think, 'You know, we still do have this safety, this security issue that is out there, and we haven't been attacked in five years.' "

Besides, he said, Bush stirs the most loyal voters to get to the polls -- the eventual theme of any campaign as it shifts from fundraising to voter turnout.

"Part of the issue in this election is making sure our base comes home, and there isn't anybody that can rally the base better than the president of the United States when he's your president," Beauprez said.

james.gerstenzang@

latimes.com

Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein contributed to this report.

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