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Bush brings out the big donors

His political troubles notwithstanding, the president still has fundraising star power.

For the second time in less than a week, President Bush showed off his fundraising prowess, attending a million-dollar Republican Party event Tuesday night and rallying big donors with a campaign-style speech about his second-term agenda that barely hinted at the troubles he faced.

"My job is to confront problems and not pass them on. My job is to make decisions," Bush, who was in a business suit, told the black-tie audience. "And I've got to tell you, I'm enjoying every minute of it."

He portrayed the war on terrorism as a global struggle to combat extremists and to promote democracy, and at one point, referring to the Iraq war, said: "I wish I could tell you it's over. But it's not."

In remarks reminiscent of his campaign speeches last year, Bush called on Congress to make permanent the tax cuts enacted during his first term and ran through a litany of his priorities, including curbing "frivolous" lawsuits and restructuring Social Security.

The fundraiser was a Republican National Committee celebration marking the 30th anniversary of the party's oldest program for major donors, the Eagles, whose members contribute a minimum of $15,000 a year.

The committee's spokeswoman, Tracey Schmitt, said that about 125 Eagles, each with a guest, attended the event, which raised $1 million.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman set the evening's upbeat tone when he introduced Bush and said the president had had "an incredible fall."

Neither Mehlman nor Bush mentioned the problems confronting the White House: a leak investigation by a special prosecutor; the controversy over the nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court; and questions over the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

On Thursday, Bush was the star attraction at a Bel-Air fundraiser that raised at least $1 million for the Republican National Committee.

The day of that fundraiser, he dismissed a question about the controversies as "a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining."

The two events underscore Bush's ability to attract big money despite the "background noise," as he described the ongoing issues.

"A president can always raise money. Whatever else happens, he's going to be in office for three more years," said John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "People have both principled and pragmatic reasons for supporting the president. On principle, they support his policies. On the pragmatic side, it's usually a good idea to be on the president's good side."

Earl Black, a Rice University political scientist, said no one should be surprised by Bush's ability to raise huge sums.

"The nation is so polarized that each party is going to continue to get the money that they need out of their contributors," he said, noting that partisan attacks tended "to unify contributors."

"When [President] Clinton was under attack, it didn't affect his ability to raise money from the Democrats."

But it is not clear that Bush's star power on the donor circuit will help Republican candidates in the 2006 elections.

In an interview on National Public Radio this week, Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), who represents a swing district in Louisville, not only expressed doubt about the Iraq war but hesitated when asked whether she would want Bush to campaign for her.

"That is one of those things where you have to wait and see whether that would be a good idea," she said.

By Edwin Chen, Los Angeles Times, Oct 26, 2005
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