Bush Shows Thick Skin
With Fundraising Events
When it comes to helping Republican political candidates fill their campaign coffers, President Bush seems to be taking a fairly thick-skinned approach these days. He showed up in Mobile in June to help raise money for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) after Sessions played a big part in helping sink his big immigration bill.
On Monday, the president was the guest of honor at a fundraiser in an Albuquerque suburb on behalf of Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). This after Domenici seemed to cut the president off at the knees last month by questioning his Iraq policy and calling for a new strategy that could end combat operations by this coming spring. And, of course, the fact of Domenici's alleged role in urging the replacement of a U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, which helped fuel the clamor for the dismissal of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was hard to ignore given today's events.
With friends disappearing everywhere, the White House certainly seems to be taking a more relaxed approach towards heretics than it once did. "We'll never have 100 percent agreement on every issue with every member -- that's unrealistic," said spokesman Tony Fratto. "But we certainly agree with Pete on most things, and he shares the same goals as the President."
Steve Bell, Domenici's chief of staff, suggested the president and the senator are on good terms. He said Domenici's new position on Iraq was developed after several years of private briefings about the situation there and "a great deal of thinking about it."
"There isn't any problem at all," Bell said of Domenici and the White House. "They knew exactly where the senator was coming from."
Domenici, the leading GOP figure in New Mexino for decades and a power on Capitol Hill, won his last race in 2002 with 65 percent of the vote, and he is not seen as one of the more vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2008. But his approval ratings have slipped some this year, most likely because of controversy over whether he improperly interfered with a prosecution when he called then-U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias to inquire about a corruption case. Domenici has denied any wrongdoing.
A number of little-known Democrats have entered or are eying the race, though there's also speculation that Gov. Bill Richardson might jump in if he decides he has had enough of his long-shot presidential race.
Brian Sanderoff, a top New Mexico pollster, said the Iglesias affair was the first "kink" in Domenici's considerable armor. Notwithstanding Bell's assertion, he said he saw the senator's comments on Iraq this summer as "a preemptive strike to show that he was not in lockstep with the president."
The president's visit today is also a preemptive strike of sorts, to help Domenici amass the kind of campaign cash necessary to deter a serious challenger.
Bell said the event, to be hosted by Los Ranchos de Albuquerque mayor Larry Abraham is expected to raise some $400,000, with about a fifth of that to go to the New Mexico Republican Party. The event was closed to the media, as are all Bush events in private homes, so there's unlikely to be any pictures of Domenici and the unpopular president.
But Bell said Bush retains a core of strong support among the many military veterans who live in the state and his approval ratings in New Mexico are a little higher than in the rest of the country. "We don't feel uncomfortable at all," he said. "We are anxious to have him, and they were anxious to come."
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