Bush Lends a Hand to GOP Friend Between NASA, Troop Goodwill Stops

President Bush greeted astronauts back home from a space mission and set about helping a Senate Republican raise money for re-election.

Bush attended a brunch Thursday at the manicured mansion of Richard Kinder, chairman of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. He was attending a second fundraiser for Sen. John Cornyn later in San Antonio, hosted by lawyer John Steen. The aim was to raise $1.3 million to get out the GOP vote in Texas.

At one point Bush took time out to shake hands and be photographed with a half-dozen returned Space Shuttle astronauts and their families on the tarmac at Ellington Field here.

The astronauts, wearing their blue flight suits emblazoned with American flags and NASA insignia, returned to Earth Wednesday from the space shuttle Discovery's 15-day mission. It was the first coast-to-coast re-entry since the Columbia disaster almost five years ago. Their space station build-and-repair mission was among the most challenging -- and heroic -- in shuttle history.

The president also planned a visit with wounded fighting men and women at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Cornyn is way ahead of his opponent, Democratic state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston, in the race for campaign cash. The latest campaign disclosure reports show Noriega with about $500,000 cash to spend and Cornyn with $6.6 million.

Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a fundraiser in Dallas for Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"There are 19 major media markets in Texas," Kevin McLaughlin, a GOP spokesman in Texas said. "It's certainly early, but we're making every effort to have the resources needed to have a successful campaign."

Texas Democrats claim Cornyn knows he faces a tough re-election race because he's so closely aligned with Bush, whose popularity has waned.

"Cornyn has been a foot soldier for the White House," said Amber Moon, a spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party. "He has tied his fortunes to Bush and he's going to have to face that in November."