Bush Still a Fundraising Magnet for GOP Donors

Times Staff Writer

President Bush’s approval rating has been no higher than the low 40s for four months. Independents have been running from him for a year. Conservatives, angered by his failed nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court, are now steaming over his administration’s decision to let a company based in Dubai operate port facilities in six American cities.

And on Thursday, with speedy stops in Indiana and Ohio, he helped raise more than $1.6 million for Republican campaigns.

No one gathers political money quite like the president of the United States. Any president of the United States. And Bush’s political allies are taking advantage of his ability to turn out the most loyal Republicans, despite the controversies that swirl about him, Vice President Dick Cheney and issues such as the war in Iraq.

Last year, Bush raised about $60 million for the Republican Party and its candidates, said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. At six events in six weeks this year, he has raised almost $14 million, Schmitt said.


During the first five years of his presidency, Bush has averaged about one fundraising event -- breakfasts, lunches, dinners and private receptions -- every nine days.

“He brings in the money and Air Force One -- it’s always a big tourist attraction,” said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff witnessed the spotlight a president can shine on local candidates.

Notwithstanding the clouds over the president, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters last week that Bush continued to get invitations.

“We are getting daily requests for the president to participate in campaign events,” she said. “In fact, the supply is not keeping up with demand.” She did not say how many requests for fundraising visits were pending.

On Thursday, the prime beneficiaries of Bush’s time and attention were Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana and Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio.

In Mishawaka, Ind., 10 miles east of South Bend, Bush served up a message that laid out his basic appeal to Republicans.

Speaking at a Bethel College gym, he covered the war in Iraq, the falling unemployment rate and the National Security Agency’s use of warrantless wiretaps in the U.S. He also reminded his audience of his support for legislation banning late-term abortions, and even his controversial effort to overhaul Social Security -- two topics he rarely mentions in less political settings.

Repeatedly, the audience interrupted the president’s 35-minute speech with applause.

In Indian Hill, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, the president posed for photographs with major donors and spoke privately to 150 to 175 people, said a spokesman for DeWine’s campaign. The event took place at the home of Mark Hauser, chief executive of his own insurance firm, and his wife, Margie.

In Ohio, a state where about 140,000 votes separated Bush from losing candidate Sen. John F. Kerry in the 2004 election, DeWine has not been publicly photographed with Bush during the president’s recent visits.

DeWine stayed in Washington when Bush visited his state a week earlier. The fundraising reception for the senator on Thursday was closed to reporters and photographers, and DeWine arrived ahead of the president instead of greeting him publicly at the steps of Air Force One upon Bush’s arrival in Cincinnati.

Although big donors are still showing their support for Bush, the same cannot be said of voters in general. Bush’s approval rating has not been above 50% in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll since the beginning of May. In the poll taken from Feb. 9 to 12 this year, he dropped to a 39% approval rating, two points above his lowest rating, in November.

Still, said Karlyn Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, who conducts research on public opinion and polls, “the base has been pretty solid for the president.”

Presidential visits, she said, “keep the base’s spirit up,” and that helps bring the loyalists to the polls on election day.

“Getting the president of the United States brings you more money than any other political fundraiser,” said Amy Walter, who monitors House races for the Cook Report newsletter.