WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee (search) made it clear it hoped for more than money from gala donors who helped the party raise a record sum heading into the fall elections.
"Every dollar you contribute, every e-mail you forward, every envelope you stuff, every door you knock, every neighborhood you walk, every Republican you register and every vote you cast will make a big difference come November," RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) told the more than 1,500 contributors who attended the party's annual gala Wednesday.
The event at the Marriott Wardman Park took in a record $38.5 million — more than triple the roughly $11 million the Democratic National Committee (search) raised at its Washington gala in March.
President Bush thanked the crowd for setting a record. He took the podium after shaking hands with several major RNC fund-raisers, including boxing promoter Don King, who waved two American flags.
"It's important to have enough fuel to make sure the grass roots are activated as we come down the stretch next fall," Bush told donors.
RNC donor Dan Cook of Dallas, who has raised more than $200,000 for Bush's re-election effort, said there is reason for Republicans to worry on the money front despite the gala record.
"Everybody's got to be concerned because there's a group of people that are working ardently to try to change the administration," Cook said. He noted millions in donations from billionaire businessman George Soros and other wealthy individuals to Democratic-leaning interest groups seeking to oust Bush.
Republicans have been reluctant to give big donations to nonparty, pro-Bush groups until the Federal Election Commission says whether it's legal for the organizations to spend such "soft money" in the presidential race, Cook said.
The millions raised by the RNC on Wednesday came in limited donations from individuals and political action committees known as hard money, the only kind the national parties are now allowed to collect. Individuals and PACS can give a party committee up to $25,000 a year.
The GOP can spend the money as it chooses, from general get-out-the-vote efforts to direct support for Bush and candidates down the ticket.
The gala total tops the roughly $30 million Bush helped raise at a Republican congressional dinner and the RNC gala in 2002, the last year national party committees could collect soft money — business, union and unlimited donations.
Several GOP governors, senators and House members were on the guest list at Wednesday's event, as were first lady Laura Bush and Cabinet secretaries Gale Norton, Ann Veneman, Spencer Abraham and Tommy Thompson.
Following the theme "Taste of the States," the menu included crab cakes, Boston cream pie and New York cheesecake to represent the Atlantic region; smoked ham, fried green tomatoes and peach cobbler for "Dixieland"; sushi, smoked salmon and baked Alaska for the Pacific coast; pork chops, empanadas and churros for "Home on the Range" states; and roast beef, Wisconsin cheeses and apple pie for the "Heartland."
In a nod to Bush's Texas roots, chocolate cowboy boots filled with raspberry mousse were served and donors received straw cowboy hats.
The gala total comes on top of roughly $17 million that the Bushes and Vice President Dick Cheney have helped the RNC raise at events around the nation since February.
The GOP has long raised millions more than the Democratic Party. But Democrats see reason for optimism.
Besides the March gala, which yielded a record total for the party, the DNC has raised $24 million through other efforts since Kerry secured the nomination March 2.
The DNC had about $40 million in the bank as of Wednesday. The RNC had $53.9 million on hand as of March 31, the most recent figure available.