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Bush Money Machine Rolls On

Texas Gov. George W. Bush spent a profitable day in the Baltimore-Washington area, collecting about $900,000 for his presidential campaign and picking up the endorsement of a rival who abandoned his own presidential bid.

Bush wound up his trip to Virginia and Maryland on Wednesday evening with a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser in heavily Democratic Baltimore that Maryland finance chairman Richard Hug said raised more than $500,000.

Â"For a Republican in Maryland, this is unbelievable,Â" he said.

Earlier at a luncheon in Washington's northern Virginia suburbs, the GOP front-runner collected about $400,000. Bush is far ahead of all his rivals.

Bush got an enthusiastic reception from the Baltimore crowd that included many of the state's top Republicans. Perhaps the loudest applause came when, in an obvious slap at President Clinton, he promised if he is elected president, he will uphold the laws of the country and Â"the integrity and honor of the office, so help me God.Â"

A few hours earlier, at the nearby Baltimore Convention Center, Mr. Clinton mocked Bush for calling himself a compassionate conservative.

Â"It sounds so good. And near as I can tell, here's what it means: It means, 'I like you. I do,Â" Mr. Clinton said to uproarious laughter from Democrats attending a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Conference.

Bush responded that he is Â"proud to be a compassionate conservative.Â"

Â"I welcome the label, and on this ground I take my stand,Â" he said.

Bush began his day at a fund-raiser in McLean, Va., just outside Washington. From there, he went to Washington for a news conference where Rep. John Kasich of Ohio abandoned his presidential bid and gave his endorsement to Bush.

Kasich continued on to Baltimore, accompanying Bush on a visit to a poor inner city neighborhood and then to the fund-raiser, where he introduced the Texas governor.

Bush's visit to Virginia's booming high-tech corridor was his second to the state in a month. The fund-raiser attracted high-tech luminaries such as America Online's chairman and chief executive, Steve Case, as well as executives from Network Solutions and Oracle.

Bush's aides said the turnout was an overwhelming show of support from northern Virginia's high-tech leaders, but some of those in attendance indicated they were there to simply meet and hear the candidate.

Case declined to say whether he supports Bush, and a list of donors did not include his name. An AOL spokesman said later that Case has donated $1,000 to Bush. He said he did not know whether Case also had contributed to other campaigns.

At both fund-raisers, Bush took a slap at the Democratic presidential front-runner, Vice President Al Gore, by saying America's current prosperity is not due to the Clinton-Gore administration's policies. Â"They no more invented prosperity than they invented the Inernet,Â" he told the Virginia crowd.

Gun opponents showed up at both fund-raisers to protest what they said was Bush's poor record on gun control.

Asked in Baltimore why he opposes calls to equip guns with child safety locks, Bush said that like many other gun control measures, the locks made sense but would be tough to enforce.

Â"The best thing to do is to arrest people who commit crimes with guns and arrest people who illegally carry a weapon and to make sure we've got instant background checks so that guns don't get into the hands of people who shouldn't be having guns,Â" he said.

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