Bush makes whirlwind stop to stump for Reichert

SEATTLE – President Bush swept into Democratic-leaning Washington state Friday for a three-hour stopover aimed at boosting the campaign of freshman Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, one of the Democrats’ top targets this fall.

Air Force One landed at Boeing Field in heavily Democratic Seattle, and the president’s motorcade headed across Lake Washington to the GOP-friendly suburb of Medina.

The president headlined a reception at the waterfront estate of Microsoft Corp. executive Peter Neupert. State Republican Chairwoman Diane Tebelius said the 400 people who attended raised an estimated $800,000 for Reichert and the state party. Admission to the reception was $1,000, while individual photographs with the president required a $10,000 donation.

Republicans were delighted with the visit – Bush seldom comes to the “blue” state he lost twice – but Democrats called the president’s visit a big mistake for Reichert, whose independent-minded suburban district voted for John Kerry in 2004.

Reichert and state GOP leaders scoffed at the notion that a Bush visit might hurt the congressman, but his Democratic challenger, Darcy Burner, said the visit could galvanize anti-war and anti-Bush sentiment. Burner said the Bush visit actually helped her draw more campaign contributions.

“I think the 8th District race will be a referendum on George W. Bush, and I think it’s a big mistake for Dave Reichert to have the president come in,” state Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz said.

More than 100 protesters gathered at a downtown park in suburban Bellevue, a few miles from Neupert’s Medina estate, to demonstrate against the president and the Iraq war. The motorcade also passed through an intersection where protesters stood on all four corners, waving anti-Bush signs and banners.

But he did have a warm reception upon arriving. A self-described “military mom,” Sheryl Sheaffer, and one of her three servicemen sons, Dylan, greeted the president when he landed. Sheryl Sheaffer is co-founder of Operation Support Our Troops, which ships holiday boxes to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush made no public appearances on his visit to Washington. After the event, he departed for another congressional fundraiser in New Mexico.

Democrats said the visit showed Republicans’ concern over Reichert’s vulnerability in the 8th District. But Republicans contended the visit raises the stature of the campaign, rallies the party’s conservative base and raises all-important campaign cash.

Democrats are running Burner, 35, a former Microsoft Corp. program manager who hasn’t run for office before, but did turn some heads with a surge of political donations in the first three months of the year. She said she was “so flattered” that Bush felt he needed to fly across the country to give Reichert a boost.

“This clearly shows what we have been saying all along, that Dave Reichert is a Bush Republican,” Burner said in an interview. “It shows they are concerned about keeping the 8th District in their control.”

She headed to San Francisco to join 14 other western Democratic challengers at a fundraiser at the home of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Friday night, with Kerry as the featured speaker.

Burner said she’s already mentioning the Bush visit in her Internet solicitations.

Reichert, 56, a former King County sheriff who highlights his centrist credentials, was not available for an interview after the visit. However, his campaign said the congressman was buoyed and that both the financial help and the jolt of energy to volunteers will be a boost.

Reichert flew to Seattle on Air Force One and was right behind the president as the cameras captured Bush’s emergence from the Boeing 747. Also along was White House political director Karl Rove.

Tebelius said the Medina event was wildly successful. GOP supporters jammed the mansion and listened with rapt attention as Bush spoke, without notes, for about 45 minutes, focusing largely on the war effort, she said.

“He talked from the heart,” she said. “It was very warm and very personal. It was very inspiring to all of us, literally one of the best speeches I have ever heard. He was enthusiastic and happy.”

Tebelius noted that it has been a good week for Bush, with the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the recent completion of a new Iraqi government and better poll numbers.

Notably absent was GOP Senate hopeful Mike McGavick, who is challenging freshman Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell.

McGavick was invited to be part of the Bush visit, but sent regrets and attended his oldest son’s high school graduation Thursday night in Pennsylvania, as well as several fundraising events.

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