Bush stumps for Nethercutt in Spokane

SPOKANE – President Bush on Thursday urged Washington voters to choose Republican Rep. George Nethercutt for the U.S. Senate in November over Democratic incumbent Patty Murray.

And while they were at the polls, Bush said, they could cast a vote for him as well.

Bush raised $750,000 and added some spark to Nethercutt’s campaign during a brief visit to the Spokane Convention Center. The event drew 626 people, and Bush urged them to campaign for Nethercutt.

“While you are getting them to vote for George, why don’t you get them to vote for me as well?” Bush said. “Both of us are going to carry this state.”

Bush lost to Democrat Al Gore by 6 percentage points in Washington in 2000, but a poll released Thursday showed him deadlocked with Democratic candidate John Kerry.

Bush spoke for about 40 minutes and then departed for Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, where he planned to speak to Army troops today.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the convention center, but the mood inside was adoring.

The White House recruited Nethercutt to give up his safe Spokane-area House seat to fight an uphill battle against Murray, a two-term incumbent.

“The fact he came here is an indication of his support,” said Nethercutt, who trailed Murray by nearly 20 points in a recent poll. “We do have momentum.”

Without mentioning Murray by name, Bush said Washington voters had a clear choice on issues such as tax cuts, the war on terrorism, judicial appointments and economic growth.

“We believe people can spend their money far better than the federal government can,” Bush said. “George wants you to keep your money. I can’t say the same for his opponent.”

Murray has a big lead over Nethercutt in polls and fund-raising, and her campaign contends Bush came to jump-start a stalled effort.

“We’re not surprised the president is coming to campaign for someone who has been a rubber stamp for his misguided policies,” said Alex Glass, a Murray spokeswoman.

“George Nethercutt has yet to say anything positive about what he wants to do for Washington state,” Glass said. “The Nethercutt campaign is spinning its wheels.”

Bush noted ruefully that when he campaigned in Spokane in 2000, he jogged along the Spokane River through downtown. He did not do that this time.

“You should see what the presidency does to your knees,” he joked.

Bush said he had kept a 2000 campaign promise to preserve four dams on the Snake River while also saving runs of salmon that conservationists contended were being decimated by the dams. Bush has refused to remove the dams, and said salmon numbers are now increasing.

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