Texas Gov. George W. Bush huddled Tuesday with members of Congress on his first trip to the nation's capital since forming his presidential exploratory committee, and fattened his campaign bank account by $1 million at a lobbyist-studded fund-raiser.
Together, the events affirmed the strong support for Bush, the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates in the polls and in the race for campaign dollars.
Bush's Washington foray also offered ammunition to Republicans hoping to defeat him in next year's presidential primaries and caucuses and to Democrats hoping to beat him in the general election.
Republicans criticized his ties to the lobbyists helping him raise money for his campaign, and Democrats blasted his links to congressional Republicans in the wake of last week's defeat of new gun control legislation.
Behind closed doors, Bush met first with 32 senators and then with 100 members of Congress, most of whom already have endorsed the governor.
Â"I came by to say thanks for their strong support,Â" Bush said after his Senate meeting. Â"I'm really pleased with the support I've received inside this building.Â"
While flashbulbs blinked and crowds of tourists strained to get a glimpse of the governor, another GOP presidential hopeful, New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, emerged alone from the Senate chamber. He said he wasn't invited to the meeting with Bush.
Â"So what? It's just another candidate,Â" Smith said.
CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick reports that the governor hit on his now well-known campaign promises - to reform education and welfare, lower taxes and rebuild the military. But Bush didn't forget where he was or who still works in the house across town.
"When I swear in, I will swear not only to uphold the laws of the land, I will swear in to uphold the dignity of the office to which I've been elected," said Bush, referring to President Clinton's impeachment in connection with a sex scandal last year.
Organizers expected to raise a record $2 million at this one event, just one stopover on a coast-to-coast fund-raising drive. Bush hopes to have raised more than $20 million by the end of this month, when the next fund-raising numbers are reported to the Federal Election Commission.
Â"There's no question he is sucking all the oxygen out of the room,Â" said former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., who now works for the heavyweight lawyer-lobbying firm of Akin, Gump. Â"There are table scraps left for the other candidates.Â"
Much of that has come in $1,000-a-person chunks, like those attending Tuesday's Washington fund-raiser. An all-star lineup of lobbyists has helped raise money for the event, including Paxon, former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, and former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston.
Many of the event's co-chairs were veterans of the presidential administration of Bush's faher, including former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, former Transportation Secretary Andrew Card, and former spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
Former House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon, who raised $50,000 for the event, said such a huge campaign bank account must be discouraging to other candidates.
Â"It isn't to scare them out, it's to show the breadth of support that you have,Â" Solomon said.
One of Bush's opponents for the GOP presidential nomination, publisher Steve Forbes, criticized the lobbyist lineup, known as the K Street crowd for the downtown street where many firms have offices.
Â"It's a lobbyist's ball and the special interests figure that this is where the status quo will be best preserved,Â" Forbes said in an interview. Â"They see him as one of their own. He's a kindred spirit. That's why they call it K Street.Â"