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Bush Bash Raises $3.5M

Headlining the first event of his 2004 campaign for re-election, President Bush set in motion a two-week, cross-country fund-raising push that advisers expect will bring in as much as all nine Democratic presidential candidates collected in this year's first three months.

About 1,400 lawyers, lobbyists and others attended the reception at the Washington Hilton.

"There's nothing like having a few friends over for a cocktail or two," the Washington Post quoted Mr. Bush as saying. "Your support is laying the groundwork for a strong nationwide effort next year. Your support is going to help us achieve a strong nationwide victory."

The campaign's premier event in Washington — held nearly 17 months before the election — will be followed by more fund-raising Friday at a hotel near Atlanta; next week in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles; and the week after in Miami and Tampa, Fla.

The New York Times reported that Republican officials expect the president to raise at least $20 million.

The White House announced that late-July fund-raisers would be held in Dallas, Houston and Detroit, and a senior administration official said more events are likely for August.

Mr. Bush's aggressive collecting of money is needed to counter "the nine Democrats who spend all of their time saying negative things about the president," spokesman Ari Fleischer said, a reference to the Democratic contenders for Bush's job.

Guests at the reception donated $2,000 apiece — as did plenty more who sent money but didn't show up for the hot dogs, hamburgers and nachos.

"It's the best $2,000 hamburger I ever had!" trilled Robin Angle, a consultant from Washington-based Capital Partnership.

One of the co-chairmen for Tuesday's event was Mitchell Delk, a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, the huge government-sponsored mortgage-market company beset by accounting problems and now under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Freddie Mac spokesman Douglas Robinson said Delk, active in the Republican Party for several years, was acting as a private citizen in the fund-raising role rather than as a company official. After questions were raised, Robinson said Delk would not attend the reception because Freddie Mac officials needed to focus on managing the company at a critical time. As Bush listed and thanked the night's co-chairmen, Delk wasn't mentioned.

The president spent barely 90 minutes at the hotel, though his schedule had allotted just over two hours. He presented his case for voters to continue with his leadership "in these challenging times," touting his administration's achievements in the war on terror, tax cuts, education reform, trade legislation and homeland security.

"On issue after issue, we acted on principle, we kept our word and we made progress for the American people," Mr. Bush said.

He also laid out his likely campaign platform, promising a commitment to fight for freedom and against poverty around the world, to eliminate threats to Americans' safety and to a host of domestic priorities from a crackdown on medical malpractice suits to Medicare reform to a broad energy agenda.

"We seek to lift whole nations by spreading freedom. And at home, we seek to lift up lives by spreading opportunity to every corner, to every person of this great country," Mr. Bush said. "This is the work that history has set before us. We welcome it. And we know that for our country, better days lie ahead."

But Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe called Mr. Bush's handling of the economy "disastrous" — arguing that the president's two major tax cuts primarily benefit the rich.

"The tax bill is turning out to be quite a payday for the Bush administration, as the millions saved by the super rich will go directly out of their pockets and into the pockets of the GOP," McAuliffe said.

The nine Democratic presidential hopefuls together raised a total of $25 million in the year's first three months, the latest figures available.

By the end of the primary election season next year, the Bush camp is aiming to take in as much as $170 million — nearly twice the record $100 million he collected during the 2000 primary season, said campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish. Some Republicans have predicted the campaign would raise more than $200 million.

As he did in 2000, Bush is skipping taxpayer-financed public funding for his primary campaign. Without the spending limits that accompany those funds, Bush — with no GOP opponent — can spend as much as he can collect until his party's nominating convention in September 2004.

He does intend to accept taxpayer financing during the general election campaign, even though he has consistently declined on his federal tax returns to give $3 to the fund.

Other members of the Bush team are pitching in as well. Vice President Dick Cheney is headlining fund-raisers on June 23 in Richmond, Va., and the Boston area, and on June 30 in Ohio and Grand Rapids, Mich. Laura Bush is to attend Bush-Cheney fund-raisers Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn., and June 25 in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.