- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. President Bush yesterday hit fund-raisers in Georgia and Florida for embattled Republicans including his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush kicking off a money drive that will culminate with 14 straight days of campaigning before the Nov. 5 elections.

Beginning on Tuesday, the president will raise funds and the profiles of Republican candidates in states with tight Senate races: New Jersey, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

Yesterday's 12-hour, two-state dash raised $1.7 million and increased the president's fund-raising total in Florida to more than $7 million. Mr. Bush has put great stock into getting his brother re-elected in the state that proved pivotal in the 2000 presidential election.

While Jeb Bush held a double-digit lead just a few months ago, a poll released this week showed the Florida governor tied with Democrat Bill McBride, who beat former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in last month's primary.

But the president said when the dust clears on Nov. 5, Floridians will have re-elected a man who shares his passion for education.

"I know him well," the president said at an education event at Read-Patillo Elementary School. "I know his heart, I know his strength of conviction, I know his vision. And it's clear. It's a clear vision to a better day."

Yesterday's trip was Mr. Bush's 11th to Florida as president, and he is scheduled to return for a 12th just before Election Day.

While Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe called the trip "an attempt by the Bush brothers to prop up a campaign that is bumbling, stumbling and fumbling," a White House spokesman said Mr. Bush believes his brother will be re-elected.

"The president is confident that his brother is going to win re-election because of his proven record of accomplishment in the state of Florida," Scott McClellan said.

In a rare move, the White House closed to the press an evening fund-raiser expected to draw $900,000 for the Florida Republican Party. All but a few of Mr. Bush's 65 fund-raisers this year have been open to reporters. The White House said the $25,000-a-plate event would be closed because it was taking place in a private residence the home of Bruce and Lesa Kennedy, the daughter of NASCAR President Bill France.

Mr. Bush began his day in Atlanta with a 40-minute, $800,000 fund-raising appearance for Sonny Perdue, the cash-strapped Republican challenger trying to defeat Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

The Perdue campaign had just $450,000 in its treasury at the end of last month, compared with Mr. Barnes' $7.5 million. The governor held a slight lead over Mr. Perdue in a recent poll.

The Georgia event also benefited Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, who is also trailing slightly in his bid to replace Democratic incumbent Sen. Max Cleland.

Mr. Bush's campaign blitz begins in earnest on Tuesday, when he hits fund-raisers in Chester, Pa., and Bangor, Maine. He travels to South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama on Wednesday before meeting Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his Texas ranch on Oct. 25.

After a short visit to San Lucas, Mexico, for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Mr. Bush is expected to stop in San Diego before returning to Texas. He picks up the campaign trail Oct. 29 with stops in Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Over the few days left before Election Day, Mr. Bush will visit Tennessee home of former Vice President Al Gore and return to Georgia and Florida before hitting Iowa and Minnesota again.

Mr. Bush will vote Nov. 5 in Crawford, Texas, before returning to Washington.

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