To hear White House officials tell it, President George W. Bush is as popular as ever on the campaign trail.
They point to his calendar, which so far this year, has included roughly 70 appearances on behalf of the GOP and its candidates. And two weeks before Election Day, administration officials continue to cite a backlog of requests they’ve had to turn down in recent months, simply because Bush has been too busy.
More than anything, they cite numbers as proof that Bush hasn’t lost his groove: the president has raised more than $100 million for the GOP this campaign cycle, making him by far the most popular Republican fund-raiser on the circuit.
But then there’s the other telling statistic the White House often downplays: of all the campaign events Bush has attended this year, not a single one has been open to the general public. So far only paying supporters have had a chance to catch a glimpse of the political campaigner in chief—a notable shift from previous election years.
Back in 2002, Bush had headlined at least eight massive multicandidate campaign rallies at this point in the midterms—all open, and free of charge to curious voters. A few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow begged off questions on why Bush hadn’t held similar events this year by telling reporters that the president would ramp up his politicking in the final weeks of the campaign—an itinerary he said would include plenty of open rallies. “There’re going to be a lot of campaign rallies,” Snow insisted, adding that Bush would also do “more events and fund-raisers.”
Yet that doesn’t seem to have happened. Over the last month, Bush has maintained a schedule of two to three days of campaign travel a week—a far more leisurely pace than Snow and other administration officials seemed to predict a month ago.
On Tuesday, Bush traveled to Florida, where he headlined two fund-raisers open to paid guests only. His first stop: a fund-raiser in Sarasota with GOP congressional candidate Vern Buchanan that raised an estimated $375,000. Later that afternoon, Bush attended a private Republican National Committee fund-raiser in Boca Raton, at a mansion owned by Jordan Zimmerman, an advertising executive and part owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team. The hourlong event, according to the RNC, took in $1 million.