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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Cashes In With Approach to Fundraising

LOS ANGELES -- First comes the advance work by White House political adviser Karl Rove, followed by several phone calls and letters from big-time money-raisers known as "pioneers." Then, finally, is the visit from President George W. Bush, who brings along his folksy humor but often leaves before dinner is done.

Bush's recipe for record fundraising has been honed to precision since his first campaign for Texas governor in 1994, when he raised $16 million. Now he is on the way to taking in a predicted $200 million or more for next year's presidential primaries, even without a Republican opponent.

The businesslike Bush relishes the cheers and applause of donors. At a $3.5 million fundraising dinner in Los Angeles last month, the president thanked the crowd for its standing ovation, but also flashed an "all right already" determination to get on with his speech. After 20 minutes of talking, there were 10 minutes of handshakes. Then it was out the door and to Air Force One.

In most appearances, Bush mixes in joking references to his family. At a San Francisco area luncheon in late June, Bush told the crowd of roughly 800 that he wished first lady Laura Bush had accompanied him. He said he planned to see her later at their Texas ranch. "She will be the lump in the bed next to me since I get in at 1:30 in the morning," he said.

Bush's style has changed since his days as governor, but it still smacks of a "kind of a laid-back Texas style," sort of that of a "good ol' boy," said William Bokovoy, a Houston real-estate investor who helped raise money for Bush's first gubernatorial campaign and is now a presidential donor.

"He speaks a lot better now. His syntax has certainly improved," Bokovoy said. "He certainly has acquired a statesman's presence." For many donors, substance is more important than style, Bokovoy said. "They look at his policies more than they do whether the man has a Hollywood personality," he said.

The groundwork for a Bush fund-raiser is laid weeks ahead of time. Rove often goes into a target state in advance to rally the lead organizers. Much of the money is raised by Bush's "pioneers," volunteer businessmen who collect at least $100,000.

This election, Bush created a new class of fundraisers called rangers, who solicit at least $200,000 each. At least a half-dozen people have raised enough since Bush began his campaign in mid-May to earn the new designation, a Republican official said.

The volunteer fundraisers spend days and sometimes weeks working their lists of prospective donors before an event. Glen Holden, a former U.S. ambassador, said he started raising money for Bush's Los Angeles fundraiser three weeks before and had raised $144,000 for the $2,000-per-ticket dinner.

"I just have a long, long list, and I first send them out a letter, and then I get on the telephone and start calling them," Holden said. In the letter, "I tell them that I think our president is doing a wonderful job and so many people agree with the way I feel."

The fundraising deal is closed when Bush arrives for an event. But unlike his famously gregarious predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, Bush does not spend hours working a room. Instead, he usually sticks to a schedule.

At the California events, donors ate as the president did his work, but Bush passed on the food. Those who raise enough in political donations typically are invited to have their photos taken with the president at small receptions before the fundraisers. Most donors -- those who simply give $2,000 to attend the fundraiser -- do not get near him unless they are seated close enough to the podium to be in range when Bush shakes hands.

Sounding what promises to be a frequent 2004 campaign theme, Democrats last week hammered Bush's economic leadership and compared him to Herbert Hoover after the U.S. jobless rate hit a nine-year high, Reuters reported.

But the White House, anxious to see improvements in the economy in time for the 2004 presidential race, said help is on the way in the form of new tax cuts.

The surprisingly large jump to a 6.4 percent jobless rate, up three-tenths of a point from May's 6.1 percent, gave Democrats new ammunition even while some analysts predicted it could be a high-water mark for the key economic and political indicator.

"You want to get your worst possible number out of the way 16 months before an election, and I think Bush might have," said Greg Valliere of Schwab Washington Research. But with the onset of serious campaigning in early 2004, "he needs to see a clear rebound in the economy by the end of this year."

Democrats are hoping to relive 1992, when President George Bush, the current president's father, lost re-election after squandering high post-Gulf War approval ratings amid a slumping economy and high unemployment.

They promise to put the shaky economy at the center of the campaign, and many of the nine Democrats vying for the right to challenge Bush in 2004 pounced on the new numbers as evidence that he cannot restore the country's economic health.