Okay, so Texas Gov. George W. Bush is a fund-raising heavyweight. His nascent presidential campaign has all but cornered the GOP market on cash contributions, threatening to suck the financial life out of his rivals for the nomination. But that still makes him only the second-biggest money draw in the Bush family, or so it seemed tonight.
George Herbert Walker Bush--a k a Air Bush, the world's most famous sky diver--can still attract a dollar or two. Or millions.
In what the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center here called "the largest charitable fund-raising event of its kind in U.S. history," about 3,000 deep-pocketed friends of the hospital and of the Bush family chipped in $10.1 million to attend a gala birthday bash tonight. The party in Houston's Astroarena--a smaller neighbor of the Astrodome--celebrated both the former president, who turns 75 on Saturday, and his wife, Barbara, who turned 74 on Tuesday.
Besides the well-heeled contributors, tonight's guest list included a few prominent Hollywood Republicans (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis) and an array of entertainers, including the Oak Ridge Boys, Van Cliburn and the Ballet Hispanico of New York. The birthday couple's daughter and four sons all were here with their spouses. And for the first time in months, the Texas governor wasn't the focus of attention.
"I'm honored to be here," he said, chatting briefly with reporters after sitting for a group photo with his family, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "I'm proud of my mother and father," the Texas governor said. "They are people who have dedicated a lot of their lives to helping people. . . .
"I'm glad my mother didn't jump out of the airplane," he added. "And I'm glad my dad landed safely."
He was referring to the third parachute jump of his father's life. The first came during World War II, when his torpedo plane was shot down in the Pacific. The second was two years ago, in Yuma, Ariz. Then on Wednesday he jumped again, free-falling for nearly 5,000 feet before floating down to the lawn of the George Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Texas A&M University.
"We're overcome by the generosity of our friends and other supporters of M.D. Anderson," the former president said in brief remarks before the gala. He asked if his wife had anything to add, but she shook her head.
"She refuses to speak--the first time in her life," Bush quipped.
"I'm lucky to have such a great family," said the governor who would be president. "And, you know, if things work out for me politically, they'll love me. And if things don't work out for me politically, they'll love me."
The $10.1 million, raised over the past nine months, will fund the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research at the hospital. The Bushes' 3-year-old daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953. Former commerce secretary Robert Mosbacher led the fund-raising effort.
"National treasures" are what Mosbacher called the former president and his wife. "Perhaps the most beloved couple in America."
"Thank God--thank God!--that parachute opened," he said.
CAPTION: George and Barbara Bush at their party in Houston that raised millions for cancer research.