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Bush Plans Campaign Trip to California Next Month

Times Staff Writers

In a bid to shore up Republicans’ election hopes in California this fall, President George W. Bush plans a Western swing in August to raise money for his own campaign and to try to build momentum for U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones, a Bush campaign official said Tuesday.

Gerald L. Parsky, Bush’s California campaign chairman, said the president will campaign with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and with Jones, who is badly trailing incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in polls and fundraising.

“That’s a signal from us that the Jones campaign is important and we want people to contribute,” Parsky said. “Jones is a very competent person and he will do well in debates with Boxer. The question there is can we get Republicans to financially support him.”

Whether Bush would align himself with Jones has been one of the big questions of the Senate campaign. Four years ago, while serving as California’s secretary of state, Jones withdrew his endorsement of Bush before the California primary and lined up behind Arizona Sen. John McCain -- a flip that earned Jones the enmity of many of his fellow Republicans.

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Although Jones traveled with Bush during a March presidential trip to California, the two Republicans appearing together on the stump would be a sign that the rift has healed. But whether either politician can do the other any good in California, considered likely to favor Democrats John Kerry and Boxer, remains to be seen.

“It certainly won’t do any harm,” said Allen Hoffenblum, a Republican analyst in Los Angeles.

Hoffenblum said Bush campaigning with Jones would signal that the Republican Party is lining up behind Jones’ Senate bid. He cited the Bush trip, a planned $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser later this month featuring Vice President Dick Cheney, expected to raise $100,000, and a two-day appearance earlier this week by McCain. And although Schwarzenegger has yet to lend his political cachet, he has promised to help once the state budget impasse is broken.

“It’s very significant that [Jones] has McCain and Bush,” Hoffenblum said.

Bush is expected to hold at least two fundraisers for his own campaign while in California. It was unclear whether he would appear at a fundraiser for Jones or any other candidates.

A spokesman for the Boxer campaign said joint appearances by Jones and Bush would support Jones’ frequent pledge that he would act as the Bush administration’s agent in the Senate.

“From Day 1, Bill Jones has said that he wants to go to the Senate to support the Bush-Cheney policies,” said spokesman Roy Behr. “So it’s certainly not a big surprise that the president will come and campaign for him. However, it is yet another reminder of how out of step Bill Jones is, thinking that the president’s policies would be popular in California, which they are so clearly not.”

Jones strategist Sean Walsh referred questions about the trip to the Bush campaign.

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“The president continues to have very strong support in California, and any activities that he does on behalf of our campaign are welcome,” Walsh said.

Parsky told reporters that the Republicans, emboldened by Schwarzenegger’s victory in the October recall election, hope to whittle away at Kerry’s lead in California polls.

“Nothing is more important to us in California in the Bush campaign than Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeding -- nothing,” Parsky said. “If he succeeds without raising taxes, we have the ability to demonstrate in California that Kerry’s solution is not very different from what you rejected in Gray Davis.”

Yet Bruce Cain, a political analyst at UC Berkeley, said he doubted the president’s trip would do much to sway the state.

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“I do not think they can make the state competitive at this time,” Cain said. “But I am sure that they owe some attention to California, since they are exporting campaign funds from the state in massive amounts.”

Bush’s appearance could help Jones attract critically needed cash; he had less than $1 million in the bank as of June 30, compared with Boxer’s $7.1 million. But it might cost him support among independent voters soured on Bush’s performance as president.

“It will kill an almost moribund Jones campaign to be associated too closely to President Bush, given the president’s job evaluations in this state,” Cain said. “The association with John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger are far more helpful in that regard.”

But if the budget crisis rumbles on and Schwarzenegger’s “stance becomes more partisan,” Cain said, “he will be less of an asset to the Jones campaign.”

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