DALLAS – President Bush on Friday attended the first of two Texas fund-raisers this weekend that will raise $7 million — the largest take in any trip to one state this year.
The president left behind the partisan battles in Washington over his statement on Iraqi weapons programs that was based in part on faulty evidence.
There was no talk of the brewing controversy at a Dallas hotel where Bush was greeted by what Gov. Rick Perry called a "Texas-sized welcome."
His speech followed his fund-raiser script, urging the Senate to approve his judicial nominees and asking Congress to embrace his energy, education and faith-based initiatives. And he replayed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the routing of the Taliban from Afghanistan.
"All the tests of the last 2 years have come to the right nation," Bush said.
"This is the work that history has set before us," he said. "We welcome it. And we know that for our country, and for our cause, better days lie ahead."
The $2,000-a-person events in Dallas Friday night and another in Houston on Saturday are his eight and ninth fund-raiser since announcing his re-election campaign on May 16. That will pad the $34.4 million his campaign has raised since May, more than the total raised in the second quarter by all nine of Bush's Democratic rivals.
Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, said about 900 people attended the Dallas fund-raiser where donors sipped drinks and nibbled on appetizers; 700 would be at the event in Houston.
The Bush campaign says the fund-raising success is a sign of Bush's public support.
Outside the hotel where Bush spoke, about 75 protesters waved flags and carried signs that said "Peace is patriotic" and "Regime change starts at home." Inside the event, Steve Young, a Dallas businessman, said Bush's fund-raising success is linked to support for the war. "Texas is a fairly patriotic state," he said. "Since Sept. 11 and the Iraq war, it has grown even more patriotic."
Texas Democrats said Bush should be back in Washington fixing problems instead of roaming the state raising money.
"I think the president's time would be better spent attempting to improve the economy, restoring veterans' benefits and providing adequate funding for public education," chairman Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the Texas Democratic Party.
First lady Laura Bush, who attended the Dallas event, was also on the campaign fund-raising trail on Friday.
She read to a group of children in a Head Start (search) program for migrant families in Morrisville, N.C., on her way to a fund-raising luncheon in Raleigh. The event had been scheduled at the program's classroom in the Raleigh suburb of Clayton, but was moved to an airport to accommodate her schedule. The fund-raiser raised $550,000, Ronayne said.
Earlier Friday, the president — an exercise enthusiast — visited the Lakewest Family YMCA (search) in Dallas where he encouraged Americans, especially children, to exercise daily, eat nutritious foods and get preventive medical screenings. He said that obesity can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. In 2000, he said, health care costs related to obesity were an estimated $117 billion and since 1980, rates of obesity have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents.
"For the sake of our future. We must reverse the trend," he said. "Good foods and regular exercise will reverse the trend and save our country a lot of money. But more importantly, save lives."
NFL Hall of Fame member Lynn Swann, who is chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (search), attended the event to launch www.presidentschallenge.org, an interactive Web site to help Americans build a regular physical activity routine.
Bush drew a line from keeping fit to keeping the country safe.
"This country of ours has got a lot of muscle," he said, watching youngsters do jumping jacks. "We're strong, and we will, by the way, stay strong in order to keep the peace," he said. "We will stay strong in order to promote freedom."
On Sunday and Monday, Bush will reward Italian leader and war ally Silvio Berlusconi (search) with a visit to the president's ranch in Crawford. Berlusconi, who supported Bush's Iraq policy despite widespread opposition in his own country, will be one of just four foreign leaders to visit both the president's ranch and his Camp David retreat in the Maryland mountains.