- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

President Bush will campaign next week with Sen. John McCain, lending his considerable fundraising prowess but also potentially extending his cloud of low approval ratings to the man who is succeeding him as leader of the Republican Party.

Mr. Bush is scheduled to join Mr. McCain, the presumptive presidential nominee, for one appearance in Phoenix and then attend two other fundraisers without him in Utah — including one at the home of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“The president is not on the ticket. John McCain is on the ticket … and McCain is going to have to tell his story and get out and tell the world why he should be president of the United States,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “He’ll have to contrast his positions with that of whoever the candidate is going to be on the other side of things, and the president will be there helping to do that.”

But even as the Republican establishment coalesces around Mr. McCain, there are more signs he might be vulnerable to a challenge from the Libertarian Party. In the latest instance, Richard Viguerie, who fathered the direct-mail machine that helped propel conservatives to political power, told the Libertarian presidential nominating convention that they, not Republicans, are the natural heirs of the conservative movement.

“Millions of grass-roots conservative activists and donors have left the Republican Party and taken with them their volunteer time, their checkbooks, and their votes,” Mr. Viguerie said in prepared remarks for his keynote address last night. “Today, the Libertarian Party has a historic opportunity to provide leadership for America.”

The Republican Party is suffering an identity crisis, with Democrats easily topping Republicans in generic polls and Mr. Bush himself at near-historic low performance ratings.

Democrats are eager to tie Mr. Bush to Mr. McCain.

“Tuesday night, when George Bush and John McCain appear on stage together, voters will again be reminded that a vote for John McCain is a vote for a third Bush term and four more years of the same disastrous policies that will keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years while ignoring the challenges we face here at home,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera.

The Arizona Democratic Party plans to greet Mr. Bush by holding a rally outside of one of his events.

Mr. McCain’s fundraising has lagged behind that of his two potential Democratic opponents. But he has made use of a new joint committee, Victory ‘08, to tap deeper into wealthy donors’ pockets.

As a hybrid organization, it can collect up to $70,000 per donor — spread out among the campaign, the national party and multiple state parties.

The McCain campaign had no comment on the joint appearance with the president.

The events are all being held at private residences and are closed to the press, though the White House said there may be times the two men are seen together in public during the president’s arrival or departure in Phoenix.

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