WARREN, Mich. – With precious air time still left to buy before Election Day, President Bush raised money Thursday for two Republican candidates trying to knock off Democratic incumbents in an uphill year for the GOP.
The president was in the final days of a nearly 2-year-long effort of unmatched fundraising for dozens of Republican candidates. Bush has raised more than $193 million in nearly 90 events, according to the Republican National Committee; that figure dwarfs what any other individual has raised for Republicans or Democrats.
Bush swung through Des Moines, Iowa, at lunchtime to raise $400,000 for the state Republican Party and congressional candidate Jeff Lamberti, whom the president mistakenly called "Dave" throughout his speech. Then Bush headed to the Detroit suburbs for an early evening fundraiser that brought in $700,000 for Senate hopeful Mike Bouchard .
"The other side is dancing in the end zone, except they're on the 15 yard line," Bush said to cheers at the fundraiser decorated with signs for the American League champion Detroit Tigers, with many in Michigan currently paying closer attention to sports than politics.
Bush hammered the same themes he has been using against the Democrats all fall — that they want to raise taxes and are soft on fighting terrorism. Democrats contend the rhetoric is just an attempt to distract from Bush's failed track record in Iraq.
An AP-AOL News poll, taken this week, shows voters are frustrated with the war in Iraq and will cast their votes on Nov. 7 accordingly. Forty percent of likely voters say they are angry with Bush. More than half say they plan to vote Democratic. The president's job approval rating stands at 38 percent.
Bush made an appeal to conservatives by stressing themes of immigration and gay marriage. Before he left the White House, the president signed a law calling for 700 miles of additional fencing along the Mexico border. He also denounced a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that gay couples are entitled to all the benefits of married couples.
"Yesterday in New Jersey we had another activist court that issued a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage," Bush said. "I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. And I believe it's a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended."
Republicans expect to lose seats to Democrats this year, a time of trouble in Iraq and scandals affecting several GOP lawmakers. The GOP hopes to control the losses by taking some Democratic seats, such as those in Michigan and Iowa.
Lamberti, whose family founded the Casey's General Stores empire of nearly 1,400 Midwest convenience stores, is running against Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell, an Army veteran who has been in Congress for 10 years. Bouchard, who has been the Oakland County sheriff since 1999, trails first-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the polls and is even further behind in the money race.
Stabenow has raised more than $12 million since becoming a senator in 2001; Bouchard reported raising about $4.6 million as of Sept. 30.
With Michigan's sluggish economy the main issue in the race, Bush and Bouchard stopped by the Morley Candy Makers factory on their way to the main event because, Bush said, "One, I like small businesses. Two, I like sweets."
Stabenow's campaign suggested Bush's visit would do nothing to help Bouchard, comparing it to "throwing an anvil to a drowning man."
In Iowa, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle avoided appearing with the president and sent his running mate to represent him. Nussle said a scheduling conflict prevented him from joining Bush. But that did not stop Nussle's opponent, Democrat Chet Culver, from accusing Nussle of "running and hiding" from Bush because of the president's low approval numbers.
So far, Bush's political events have been exclusively before donors willing to pay to see him — usually $1,000 a person. Bush's first free appearance will be Saturday in Sellersburg, Ind.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said those rallies will continue through Nov. 7, although his schedule will have some flexibility so he can help raise money for any candidates who need a final financial boost.