BURLINGAME, Calif. – President Bush (search) passed through four cities, delivered two speeches and spent eight hours airborne in a marathon day in which he was greeted by hundreds of West Coast protesters but also enough well-heeled Republicans to add $5 million to his campaign coffers.
Bush's two California stops Friday — at a luncheon outside San Francisco and a dinner in Los Angeles — were part of an efficient and lucrative two-week dash. The effort will allow the president's re-election campaign to file federal finance reports showing $27 million to $30 million for the three-month period ending Monday.
The amount is certain to dwarf the totals of the nine Democratic presidential contenders — even though Bush started months after his rivals.
The lunch brought in $1.6 million. The glitzier evening event added another $3.5 million to the day's take, said campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish.
But the president clearly had more on his mind than his re-election account. Eager to start a weekend stay at his Texas ranch, Bush opted out of an overnight in California, which he lost to Al Gore by 12 percentage points in 2000. Instead, he chose a schedule in which he flew from Washington to San Francisco to Los Angeles and halfway back across the country to arrive in Crawford, Texas, well after midnight.
Looking toward his final destination, Bush told his lunchtime supporters he couldn't wait to see his wife. But, he quipped, "She'll be the lump in the bed next to me since I get in at 1:30 in the morning."
He also rushed through the VIP reception before his speech — a private picture-taking session with those who raised $50,000. Then, on stage, he impatiently signaled for California finance chairman and close pal Brad Freeman (search) to wrap up his introductory remarks. Bush left San Francisco a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
Donors who gathered in the airport hotel ballroom paid $2,000 to eat grilled chicken salad, with a strawberry and mango relish; wild mushroom ragout and a triple chocolate mousse.
They were also served pre-speech jokes by comedian Dennis Miller (search), who later earned a ride not only on Air Force One (search) but also in the president's limousine. His well-received assessment of the Democratic White House hopefuls: "I haven't seen a starting nine like that since the '62 Mets," a reference to the New York baseball team that won 40 games and lost 120.
From Bush, the audience got a well-rehearsed, 25-minute summary of administration achievements and campaign promises.
"We have a lot on the agenda and what I want to tell you is that I'm going to continue to earn the confidence of all Americans, regardless of their political party, by keeping this nation secure and strong and prosperous and free," Bush said. "We have accomplished a lot, but our work is only the beginning."
Ladd Burgin, chief operating officer of a high-tech company in Burlingame, said California could be in play for Bush in 2004. "I think it's an uphill battle, but who knows?" he said.
But traveling in this traditional Democratic stronghold had Bush sharing the spotlight with his opponents.
Outside the San Francisco hotel, about 1,000 protesters lined up behind barricades and a row of police in riot gear. They held signs proclaiming a mostly anti-war message; "Bush lies: Iraqi people & GIs die," read one.
Ads also appeared on televisions in the Los Angeles area, as well as Washington, that criticized Bush's record on the environment. The 30-second spot paid for by the League of Conservation Voters (search) says the group's "F" grade for the president's environmental record is a result of his ties to "corporate polluters" from whom he raises money.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer shrugged off the opposition. "It's a free country," he said.
On Monday, Bush travels to fund-raisers in Miami and Tampa, Fla.