When The Big Bucks Aren't As Big Anymore

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
Has President Bush's decline in the polls impaired his role as the GOP fundraiser-in chief?

The Republican National Committee held its annual Presidential Gala fund-raiser last evening at the DC Armory – with President Bush as the guest of honor.

GOP Chairman Mike Duncan said he was "proud to announce" that the event had raised $10.5-million dollars.

It sounds like a respectable figure. It's certainly nothing to sneeze it.

But it's a sharp decline from the amount raised at the same event last year.

In 2006, the Presidential Gala raised $17-million. And in 2005 it was $15-million.

RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmidt explains the decline saying that this is not an election year.

Well, 2005 wasn't an election year either, and the event then raised 50% more than last night.

She also makes the point that Republican contributors are now being aggressively targeted by all the GOP presidential candidates.

Even so, she is quick to assert that the RNC is out-raising the Democratic National Committee this year by at least $10 million.

To hear Chairman Duncan tell it, the GOP needs every penny it can get. He said 2007 and 2008 are going to be "the most expensive election cycle in history."

So far this year, President Bush has done eight political fund-raising events. And his total to this point is $34.9-million.

Last night's event was open to press coverage. That's not always the case. Of the 8 fund-raisers he's done this year, four have been closed to reporters.

Mr. Bush told yesterday's fund-raiser that the Republican Party's mission "is to keep the White House in 2008, and retake the Senate and the House."

He said the GOP is "ready to run a vibrant and active campaign" and he offered the party some advice:

"I have found that if you stand for something, the people will believe in you," he said. "If you stand on principles and enunciate that which you believe, the people will follow."

The President urged the Republican Party "to enunciate that which we believe, to stand for something, not be one of these parties that takes a focus group to tell us what to believe, but to tell people what we believe and what those beliefs are -- beliefs etched in our soul."

He called the GOP the party of the entrepreneur, the doer and the dreamer. He said it's the party of people who work, the party of low taxes and the party of strong national defense."

He didn't mention the big defeat the party suffered in last year's midterm elections.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.