Bush Tries to Help GOP Candidates Build Campaign War Chests

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Despite his low standing in the polls, President Bush is working to help Republican House and Senate candidates build their campaign war chests while he is promoting his own troubled agenda.

The president is expected to assume the campaign role more often in the coming months as the 2006 congressional election year begins.

"I fortunately, have had my fill of campaigns, but there's nothing like walking into a room full of enthusiastic supporters to give you that spirit, to kind of put that wind behind your back," the second-term president told about 1,300 people at a dinner fundraiser for GOP Sen. Jon Kyl in Phoenix on Monday.

The president's appearance was expected to bring in at least $1.4 million for the Republican incumbent.

On Tuesday, Bush was slated to appear at a fundraising luncheon for Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Denver at the end of a two-day swing to pitch his immigration reform proposal.

Democrats, seeking to regain power in the GOP-controlled House and Senate, are trying to make Bush's woes a liability for GOP candidates who have supported the president and his policies.

The president's approval rating in polls — both overall and in several key areas — has fallen to some of the lowest levels of his presidency. It has been dragged down by the unpopular war in Iraq and the administration's fumbling of Hurricane Katrina relief.

At the same time, Congress has not acted on some of Bush's key agenda items, including immigration reform.

For the past year, Bush has been unable to get the House and Senate to sign off on a main part of his immigration proposal — his guest worker plan for foreigners.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the Senate won't take up immigration proposals until February. The House still hopes to take up some border security measures before adjourning this year but the chances of that happening are slim.

The contentious guest worker plan is likely to be the last immigration issue ironed out.

Conservatives who take the hard line on illegal immigration have balked at the plan and Bush sought to mollify their concerns Monday by talking tough on border security.

"We're going to secure the border by catching those who enter illegally and hardening the border to prevent illegal crossings. We're going to strengthen enforcement of our immigration laws within our country," Bush said.

On Tuesday, the president checked out border security operations in El Paso, Texas. He drove on a road along the Rio Grande river and was accompanied by border patrol agents, including some on horseback. Later, he was heading to Colorado for the Musgrave fundraiser.

Absent from the president's entourage was chief political adviser Karl Rove, who typically is on hand during campaign events. He has maintained a low profile in recent weeks as the investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity heated up and ensnared a fellow White House aide. The prosecutor is still exploring Rove's involvement in the case.

Already this year, the president has campaigned for Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Jim Talent of Missouri who are up for re-election next fall.

Brian Nick, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the president plans to appear at events soon for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele who is vying for that state's open Senate seat, and Rep. Mark Kennedy who is in the race for the open seat in Minnesota. Both seats are currently held by Democrats choosing not to run for re-election.

"The president looks forward to campaigning on behalf of those who support his agenda to make America stronger and safer," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday.