Bush Opens Fundraising Tour in California

Rival John Kerry (search) in his sights, President Bush opened an aggressive fund-raising swing through California Wednesday while renewing his push to expand religious groups' roles in helping the needy.

Bush jetted to California for some bare-knuckled politicking 12 hours after a congratulatory call to Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who rode a wave of nominating contests to the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge Bush this fall.

The president crammed three fund-raisers into a 25-hour visit to the nation's most populous state and one that has been far friendlier to Democratic presidential candidates than GOP nominees. In 2000, Al Gore cruised to a 12 percentage point win over Bush.

Bush has already raised at least $153 million for his re-election bid, and two of the fund-raisers were for his own campaign, the other for the Republican National Committee (search). But the California fund sweep came as his campaign treasury was spending millions on ads, with commercials set to begin nationwide on Thursday.

One spot was filmed in Spanish, part of an appeal to Hispanic voters who are the fastest growing minority group in states such as California.

The president was following in his predecessors' footsteps by rolling through California for big fund-raising sweeps. President Clinton came to California constantly during his first term, often to collect cash for his re-election and for the Democratic Party. By this point in his presidency, he had visited the state 22 times.

Bush's visit Wednesday was his 11th to California.

The disparity reflects the political realities for both presidents. Clinton made California the centerpiece of both his elections; Bush lost the state by some 1.3 million votes in 2000. So he has visited other populous states such as Pennsylvania that advisers think he has a better shot of winning. He has traveled to Pennsylvania 25 times.

California will carry the nation's biggest cache of electoral votes this November -- 55 -- compared to Pennsylvania's 21.

California was one of 10 states that had nominating contests Tuesday, and Bush resumed his practice of following where the Democrats had recently been campaigning.

The official draw for Bush was a speech at the White House Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (search) in downtown Los Angeles.

Bush has long championed the idea of giving religious charities more latitude to help with such things as drug-treatment programs.

On Thursday, Bush was heading to inland California for a talk on the economy with Bakersfield-area residents selected by the White House. The events serve as platforms for Bush to promote efforts meant to boost the economy, such as making certain tax cuts permanent.

Then he was off to a fund-raiser for his re-election in Santa Clara, Calif., in the Silicon Valley.

He was staying well clear of San Francisco to the north. The city has granted thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples -- a development that helped nudge Bush last month toward backing a constitutional amendment banning such unions.

Bush was spending a long weekend at his Crawford, Texas ranch, hosting Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) Friday and Saturday.

On Monday, he was resuming the fund-raising chores, with a pair of events in Texas, before returning to Washington Monday evening.