Bush makes quick fundraising stop in Bellevue

BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) - President Bush, deeply unpopular in Washington state, still raised more than $500,000 Monday for Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert and the state GOP, just hours after the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinner at a Bellevue hotel. Most signs offered anti-war messages, but at least one person had a placard cued to the day's news: "Gonzales gone: A Good Start."

Bush made no reference at the dinner reception to Gonzales' resignation, focusing instead on the Iraq war, international terrorism and domestic security.

"What happens in Iraq matters in America," Bush said. "We will not be intimidated by thugs and murderers. I am confident we will succeed."

It was a lightning-quick appearance for the president, who has made infrequent visits to a state that has trended Democratic in recent years. Besides the entrance fee, some attendees also paid $10,000 for a private photo with Bush.

The prime target of the fundraiser was Reichert, who faces a tough re-election bid as Western Washington's only Republican congressman. The beleaguered state Republican Party will collect whatever's left after Reichert maxes out on federal campaign finance limits from each donor.

Reichert, who has parted with the president and his party leaders on some issues, has sided with the administration on major war votes. State polls show the Iraq war quite unpopular here.

The GOP said about 300 people attended. Bush's entire visit to the state lasted less than three hours.

In a 23-minute speech largely devoted to Iraq, Bush hailed Reichert as "an honest, decent, hardworking, fine American."

Bush noted Reichert's background in law enforcement - he is a former King County sheriff - and his homeland security assignments in Congress, saying "I look at him as 'The Sheriff' for Congress."

Bush also signaled his willingness for Reichert to break with the White House on occasion.

"He's an independent thinker," Bush said. "He's done a fabulous job in the United States House of Representatives, and he deserves to be re-elected."

Reichert, who gave a short introduction of the president, didn't have much to say about his 2008 campaign. But he praised Bush, and was beaming throughout the event.

"This is a man who has a heart, who has compassion," Reichert said.

Reichert, who barely defeated a political novice, former Microsoft program manager Darcy Burner, in 2006, invited the president shortly after that election, viewing Bush as a premier fundraiser and a hero to the GOP base.

"There is no downside," former state Republican Chairman Chris Vance said. "The opposition already has plenty of video of the president and Dave Reichert getting off Air Force One and would use it in ads even if the president didn't come out again."

"The president of the United States is an amazing fundraiser, and the race will cost a lot of money. And he certainly energizes the base," Vance said.

The president also was energizing the Democratic base. Both announced challengers protested the visit and were trying to use it to generate campaign contributions and volunteers.

Burner, who rebooted her campaign within days of losing to Reichert, organized a "Send a Message" Internet town hall on Iraq, spearheaded by liberal bloggers. She hoped to raise $100,000.

State Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who switched parties and ousted an incumbent Republican here last year, was organizing protesters Monday.

The district has never elected a Democrat to Congress, but has been trending toward Democrats in recent years.

The president attended a Bellevue fundraiser for Reichert in June 2006, and many of the Democrats' TV ads repeatedly used the TV clips of the two alighting from Air Force One. Reichert was portrayed as a Bush clone.

Reichert's chief of staff, Mike Shields, said the congressman's approval ratings have held steady and that people in the 8th District have solidified their positive view of him as a moderate, independent-minded lawmaker.

"It's a huge cash injection before the actual election cycle begins," Shields said. "An event doesn't get much bigger than this. This is a huge help."

Reichert has endorsed probably the most moderate of the main Republican presidential contenders, Rudy Giuliani, and is the former New York mayor's national co-chairman of "Law Enforcement for Rudy."

Among the protesters outside the hotel Monday were three Inglemoor High School students who dressed up like beauty queens with sashes reading "I Miss America."

"We miss the America the major powers used to look up to, the diplomacy, the democracy," 17-year-old Katherine Wilcox told The Seattle Times.

Bellevue police Officer Greg Grannis said he knew of no protest-related arrests.
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