ADAM C. SMITH
Campaign events Tuesday help the president top his 2000 fundraising record in the state.
JACKSONVILLE - While President Bush is under some criticism in Washington for his handling of the war in Iraq and the economy, his fundraising machine is humming along just fine in Florida.
Bush shattered his own fundraising record on Tuesday for a presidential candidate in Florida , pulling in another $3-million for his re-election with stops in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.
The Republican has now raised $6-million in Florida some 14 months before the election, eclipsing the $5.7-million he raised in the state during the 2000 campaign.
"Your checks are great and are going to make a big difference . . ." the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, said at the Fort Lauderdale event, which raised at least $1.3-million.
The president's 16th trip to the state that put him in the White House included a stop at a Jacksonville school that provided an opportunity to illustrate he is concentrating on domestic matters even amid the difficulties in Iraq.
"One aspect of security is to deal with people who hate America. It's to get them before they get us, and that's what we'll continue to do," Bush told a packed auditorium at the Hyde Park Elementary School in Jacksonville. "But when you really think about it, when you put your mind to it, a second aspect of the security of America is to make sure every child gets educated."
Two years ago this week, President Bush was talking to students at a school in Sarasota when he learned that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Since then, the country and his presidency have changed dramatically. Bush's national approval ratings soared and then dropped out of the stratosphere. He now finds himself overseeing mounting casualties in post-war Iraq and an $87-billion price tag, a federal deficit approaching $500-billion and an economy that continues to shed jobs.
But with help from deep-pocketed supporters like those who set local fundraising records in Duval and Broward counties Tuesday, the president is building a mountain of money to help generate good will and fend off attacks over the coming months. Hosts of the fundraisers included representatives of some of Florida's biggest businesses, from insurance companies to sugar corporations to major developers.
Even without a primary opponent, the Bush campaign plans to raise a record $200-million, double what he raised in 2000. He is aided by the increase in the contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000.
Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the money will be needed because nine Democrats running for president and various interest groups could spend $200-million trying to defeat Bush. The Bush campaign has raised more than $62-million so far.
"We expect a very close race in 2004," Stanzel said.
But the nine Democrats are expected to abide by spending caps of roughly $45-million to qualify for public matching money for the primary contest. Though former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has left the door open to forgo public financing, the Democratic nominee who emerges in March could be nearly broke over the spring and summer, while the Bush-Cheney campaign has vast sums to spend.
Sandwiched between the fundraisers was a visit to Jacksonville's Hyde Park Elementary School, whose state grade has risen from D to A in two years.
Bush used the school to illustrate how measuring school performance can help lead to better results and accountability, a key goal of Gov. Jeb Bush and of the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" passed in 2001.
"In order for schools to succeed, you'd better have you a good principal," said the president.
In Fort Lauderdale, protesters carrying signs and crosses with the names of soldiers killed in Iraq greeted President Bush as he arrived at a waterfront resort for the fundraiser. About 150 people greeted Bush with a chorus of boos and chants, and the crowd doubled later as more protesters, some aboard chartered buses, continued to arrive after the president's motorcade arrived at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel.
The Bush campaign tracks top money raisers, dubbing those who raise at least $200,000 as "Rangers" and those who raise $100,000 "Pioneers." A number of Floridians already have achieved that status.
Among the 23 people who have reached "Ranger" status are Fort Myers area developer and Republican National Committee finance chairman Al Hoffman; Boca Raton developer Ned Siegel; and Fort Lauderdale cardiologist and Florida finance co-chairman for Bush Zachariah Zachariah. Florida "Pioneers" so far include Tampa developer Al Austin; Tallahassee lobbyist and former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas; former Gov. Bob Martinez of Tampa; and Coral Gables builder Sergio Pino.
Democrats are continuing to mine Florida for campaign money, too. Through June 30, the nine Democratic presidential candidates had raised more than $4-million from Floridians. More than half of that amount went to U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.
Graham has several Florida fundraisers scheduled over the coming weeks, including one in Miami today, and one Sept. 22 at the Columbia restaurant in Tampa hosted by former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, among others. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman will be raising money in South Florida Thursday and Friday, while Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is expected to hold South Florida fundraisers Sept. 23.
- Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or firstname.lastname@example.orgBush sets record
President Bush on Tuesday broke his 2000 record for fundraising by a presidential candidate in Florida:
Bush 2004 re-election campaign: $6-million.
Bush 2000 campaign: $5.7-million.