Bush Takes Fund Raising Effort to the Road

In six days away from the White House, President Bush is the star attraction at five events aimed at pulling in cash to help get him re-elected and put other Republicans in office as well.

In between, he'll speak on the economy and on his effort to give religious groups more of a role in federal programs, make good on a two-year-old invitation to host the president of Mexico at his Texas ranch, and even attend a rodeo.

But he'll spend the most time shuttling across California and Texas to meet a heavy fund-raising schedule.

The president has collected at least $153 million for his re-election campaign. His goal is $170 million to spend — partly to tear down the Democratic nominee, partly to bolster his image - between now and the Republican convention at the beginning of September.

Bush was traveling first to California on Wednesday, a day after voters in that state and nine others enabled Sen. John Kerry (search) to lay claim to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Showing up shortly after a politically crucial state's voters make their Democratic primary choice has become a pattern — already practiced in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Missouri — that allows Bush to counter weeks of attention on his potential rivals and their arguments against him.

In Los Angeles, he was to tend to his base of support among religious conservatives with a speech on his efforts to open up more federal spending on social ills to religious-affiliated charities. Bush, whose political advisers are itching to place California's 55 electoral votes within their reach, was to round out the daylong agenda at a White House-sponsored conference to help such groups more effectively navigate federal grant-making.

Then it was to a cocktail reception at the Shrine Auditorium benefiting his own campaign, followed by a closed dinner at a private home to add to the national Republican Party's coffers.

On Thursday, rounding out his 11th trip to the state as president, Bush headlines an event on the economy in Bakersfield and then skips to northern California for more fund-raising.

The luncheon campaign event is in Santa Clara, taking Bush close to the heart of the national debate over another issue dear to his conservative base, same-sex weddings. The president cited San Francisco's gay-marriage spree, along with a recent ruling by Massachusetts' highest court, when he argued last week that a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is necessary.

But, perhaps reflecting the potential political risks in taking on the issue, Bush's speeches since have steered clear of a specific repeat of that call. His new stump speech for political audiences includes only an allusion to judges who have allowed gay marriages in some states.

"We will not stand for judges who undermine democracy by legislating from the bench, or try to remake the culture of America by court order," he tells fund-raiser crowds these days.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said Tuesday that Bush has no intention of leaving the issue alone. "He will continue to talk about the importance of defending values that we hold dear in this country," McClellan said.

Bush's trip also puts him on the road raising campaign cash the same day that his re-election committee begins airing its first wave of TV commercials. The campaign has bought at least $4.5 million worth of airtime, starting Thursday, aimed primarily at shoring up his popularity with his conservative base and Hispanics.

From California, the president heads to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a long weekend that puts back on his calendar the previously canceled stay there by Mexican President Vicente Fox. Fox was to spend from Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon with Bush in a sign of mending ties between the two leaders and their countries.

Nearly two years ago, Fox canceled a trip to Crawford after Texas executed a man Mexico said was a Mexican national. U.S. officials said it wasn't clear where he was born.

Fox then raised Bush's ire by refusing to back the United States at the United Nations on the Iraq war.

In January, however, Bush announced a proposal for giving temporary visas to Mexicans — and people from other countries - who had U.S. jobs waiting. Later that month, Bush renewed the Crawford invitation and Fox eagerly accepted.

On tap Monday are more fund-raisers, in Dallas and Houston, with an appearance at a livestock show and rodeo sandwiched in between before he returns to Washington.