MINNEAPOLIS – President Bush pulled out his tough-on-terrorism speech from his last campaign and said on Friday that the United States would wage an unrelenting battle in Iraq to protect Americans at home.
"Our short-term objective is to stay on the hunt and bring the killers to justice before they hurt us again," the president said at a political event. "I'd rather be defeating them there than face them here at home."
Bush spoke at a fundraiser expected to net $1 million for Rep. Mark Kennedy, the presumptive Republican nominee for the state's open Senate seat, and the state GOP.
The event was a delicate balancing act for Kennedy — who needs Bush's fundraising muscle to keep his war chest growing but also has been making some effort to distance himself from a president who has been down in the polls.
"This is a Senator Kennedy I can work with," Bush told hundreds of wealthy Republican supporters at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon at a downtown hotel here, comparing the GOP candidate with the famously liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "He's the right person for the job."
Bush made the war on terrorism the central element of his re-election campaign and it resonated with voters. He emphasized that theme on Friday, saying that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 demonstrated that the United States must deal with the world as it really is.
To prove his independence to skeptical moderates in the traditionally Democratic state, Kennedy's campaign has highlighted his opposition to a key Bush priority, drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to Bush's No Child Left Behind education reforms.
Minnesota Democrats say they're not buying it, pointing to a record that shows Kennedy has voted with the White House 97 percent of the time.
They welcomed Bush's arrival in Minnesota, hoping that his low approval ratings would be radioactive for any Republican aligned with a president they see as weakened by the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and GOP ethics investigations.
"People trust us more with their problems, the governor has a very low re-elect number and the president, who has the worst numbers of all, will be on the same stage with (GOP Gov. Tim) Pawlenty and their Senate candidate," said Minnesota DFL Party executive director Andrew O'Leary.
White House officials scoffed at that, pointing to Bush's ability to pull in $1 million for Kennedy and the state GOP — a record for Minnesota — as proof that no one was running from the president.
But other top Republicans attending the $1,000-a-plate luncheon at the Minneapolis Hilton have also been separating themselves from Bush.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., also voted against Arctic drilling and said "it's legitimate to criticize" the administration for "the lack of communication" in explaining what's happening in Iraq. Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., has faulted the president for not doing enough to trim the deficit.