By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
President Bush suggested last night that Republicans must remain in control of Congress for the country to effectively combat terrorism and keep the economy healthy, speaking at a $27 million fundraiser meant to provide a needed boost to the campaign war chest of congressional Republicans.
"The most important responsibility we have in Washington is to defend the people of the United States," he said. "When this country sees a threat, we must deal with it before it fully materializes."
Bush addressed about 5,000 of the GOP's strongest supporters at the "President's Dinner," the largest fundraiser of the year for the Republicans' two congressional campaign committees.
Bush said that the "Democrats are good talkers, we're good doers," but generally avoided the harsh language he used to describe the Democrats at last year's dinner, when he urged support for his Social Security plan.
At the Washington Convention Center last night, he defended the decision to invade Iraq and invoked the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to say that the United States must "stay on the offensive" before its enemies "hurt America." He added: "It's important to have members of the United States Congress who will not wave the white flag of surrender in the war on terror."
The amount raised yesterday eclipses the $23 million the committees took at the event last year. The NRCC will receive $15 million of the $27 million, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will get $12 million.
The infusion of cash could not come at a better time for Republicans, who are defending 35 competitive seats in the November elections, compared with 10 such seats for the Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. In addition, Democrats this year have been erasing the fundraising advantage the GOP has traditionally held.
As of April 30, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was trailing its Republican counterpart by $15,000 in cash on hand, a small figure given the GOP's usual advantage. The Democrats' Senate committee had nearly double the available cash on hand as its Republican counterpart.
But Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), the House chair of the dinner, said in an interview: "I think this dinner is going to reestablish the cash advantage . . . that we've historically had."
McCrery said that "the atmosphere that hung over the political scene was a contributor to members having to make more phone calls to raise money for the dinner." But he added that good news for the president in recent weeks -- successes in Iraq and the clearing of his top adviser, Karl Rove -- encouraged Republicans and led to a spike in ticket-buying.
It cost $2,500 for a ticket to the dinner. Campaign finance regulations allow someone to contribute up to $25,000 per party committee. Last night, for that sum, attendees could be photographed with the president.
Sarah Feinberg, press secretary for the DCCC, said "the reality is" that Republicans are struggling to keep pace with what they have raised in years past while the DCCC "continues to break fundraising records. . . . The American people desperately want change and a new direction in Washington, and they are making that preference abundantly clear by contributing to Democratic campaigns."
But McCrery said the dinner marks a change in that pattern: "Republicans have certainly wrested the momentum from the Democrats."