CINCINNATI – President Bush (search) raised money for the Republican Party and promoted his agenda of compassionate conservatism Monday as he and his Democratic rival focus on a key state in their battle for the White House.
On his 18th presidential trip to Ohio, Bush promoted his $1.5 billion proposal to offer premarital counseling to parents on welfare.
"I think one of the smartest things we can do is to encourage families" by spending money on grants to states, faith-based organizations (search) and community-based groups that "teach people what it means to be in a successful marriage," Bush told supporters at an alcohol and drug addiction services center.
Bush's Healthy Marriage Initiative (search) is part of welfare reform legislation stalled in the Senate.
"It's stuck" and "there's too much politics in Washington on this," said Bush. "Congress needs to get the welfare bill (search) to my desk. It's a bill that will encourage work. It will encourage compassionate programs."
The proposal, which the White House developed in close consultation with conservative groups, ties the concept of healthier marriages to reducing drug use and other problems.
About 40 protesters, some carrying signs that said, "Bush You're Fired" and "Outsource Bush," demonstrated outside ADAS center, where the president spoke. Among them were Sierra Club (search) members, who objected to Bush's environmental policies. Two women supported Bush and held anti-abortion signs that read, "Save the unborn."
Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry (search) campaigned last week in Ohio, promoting a proposed federal program that would pay to keep schools open until early evening to help working parents. Kerry also raised $2 million at two events in Cincinnati and Columbus.
On Monday, Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said Bush has had more than three years to focus on the problems of families, saying he "looked the other way" while health costs, gasoline prices and other household expenses hit record highs.
Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken added in a statement: "What President Bush should realize, but does not, is that the single biggest factor in keeping families together is stability - a job, decent and affordable health care, and a quality education."
The national furor over gay marriage (search) has complicated the task of officials and civic leaders who are trying to energize support for Bush's proposal to promote stronger marriages among heterosexuals.
Some groups contend the marriage program could discriminate against single women, pressure some into abusive marriages and convey that they should find a husband rather than seek self-sufficiency. Gay-rights activists are bitter that Bush would request funds to aid heterosexual couples while advocating a ban on same-sex marriages.
Bush also was attending a fund-raiser at the home of longtime friend and prominent investor Bill DeWitt, a $25,000-per-couple event that was raising $2.5 million for the Republican Party.
DeWitt was a business partner in Bush's Texas oil company and played an instrumental role in Bush's most profitable business venture, his stake in the Texas Rangers. DeWitt first alerted Bush that the baseball team's owner wanted to sell.