President Bush last night began raising money for his re-election campaign, shoveling cash into a war chest that, when full, will allow him to counter his increasingly critical Democratic rivals.
“There are nine Democrats who spend all of their time saying negative things about the president,” said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. “The president is a competitor, and he will prepare for what he needs to do in the re-election.”
Specifically, Mr. Bush is expected to produce campaign ads that will air next year, just as the attacks from Democrats intensify.
“Part of the president’s efforts next year will be to rebut the statements that will increasingly be made about the president — all from a negative point of view,” Mr. Fleischer said. “There’s a large resonation, a large reinforcement of a negative message that’s coming at the president.”
To bankroll the advertising campaign, Mr. Bush raised an estimated $4 million from thousands of Republican donors, each of whom gave $2,000 at the Washington Hilton last night. It was the first installment toward a war chest that is expected to top off at upwards of $200 million.
That would be at least twice as much as the eventual Democratic nominee is expected to raise, prompting one of the hopefuls, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, to denounce the Bush fund-raising juggernaut as a threat to democracy.
“The amount of money that candidates raise in our democracy is a reflection of the amount of support they have around the country,” Mr. Fleischer shrugged. “So the president is proud to have the support of the American people.”
Although Mr. Bush headlined a fund-raiser last month that raised more than $20 million, that money was earmarked for Republican congressional candidates. Last night’s fund-raiser was the first of 10 this month at which Mr. Bush will raise money for his own campaign.
Yesterday, the White House announced that fund-raisers will be held in Dallas on July 18, Houston on July 19 and Detroit on July 24.
Previously announced fund-raisers will be held Friday in Greensboro, Ga.; Monday in New York; June 27 in San Francisco and Los Angeles; and June 30 in Miami and Tampa, Fla.
Vice President Dick Cheney will headline four additional fund-raisers this month, while first lady Laura Bush will appear at three more.
Despite all this political activity, the White House insisted Mr. Bush is not yet focusing on his campaign, which opened an office in suburban Washington last week.
“As events get closer to an election, to Election Day, the president will engage in more overt campaigning,” Mr. Fleischer said. “That time is not here.”
He added: “This is not an election year, but this is the period of time in which incumbent presidents have historically prepared for their election years.”
Incumbent presidents also try to remain above the political fray for as long as possible, preferring to “look presidential” by simply discharging the duties of the office — which ends up being a sort of stealth campaign.
“The president is focused right now on governing,” Mr. Fleischer said. “And what the president is focused on when it comes to governing is on providing economic security and national security for the American people.”
Mr. Bush, who faces no Republican challengers for the White House, will forgo federal matching funds in the primary election. However, he will accept taxpayer funds in the general election, despite the fact that Mr. Bush personally does not check the box on his tax return that would contribute $1 toward the funding of presidential campaigns.