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By Scott Stearns
White House
29 May 2008

U.S. President George Bush wraps up three days of fundraising for his Republican Party and its presumptive presidential candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain.  VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the McCain campaign is trying to balance the president's record-low approval ratings with his considerable fundraising ability.

President Bush waves as he disembarks Marine One for a meeting with Mormon church leaders, Thursday, 29 May 2008, in Salt Lake City
President Bush waves as he disembarks Marine One in Salt Lake City, 29 May 2008
This was the president's first active campaigning for the man who will lead his party's ticket in November - three events in the southwest states of Arizona and Utah and another two for Republican candidates in New Mexico and Kansas.

All were private fundraisers closed to the press.  Only once did President Bush and Senator McCain appear together in public: shaking hands at the foot of the steps to Air Force One, the presidential aircraft.

White House officials say that is because the McCain campaign keeps all its fundraisers private.  And fundraising is what the senator needs as he trails both of his Democratic rivals in campaign cash.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at Denver University on Tuesday, 27 May 2008, in Denver, Colorado
Sen. John McCain
But private events also avoid the political gamble of a public rally with a deeply unpopular president.  It is a quandary for McCain that the president joked about when endorsing him two months ago in the Rose Garden.

"If my showing up and endorsing him helps him or if I am against him and it helps him, either way I want him to win.  Look, this is the same age-old question that every president has to answer and there is an appropriate amount of campaigning for me to do," Mr. Bush said. "But they are not going to be voting for me."

The Democratic Party's leading presidential candidate, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, says the private fundraisers show the vote is as much about the president as it is about McCain.

Barack Obama speaks during a discussion on protecting homeownership in North Las Vegas, Nevada 27 May 2008
Barack Obama
"He is holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona.  No cameras.  No reporters.  And we all know why," Obama said. "Senator McCain does not want to be seen hat-in-hand with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years."

A poll by Fox News Channel this week found that just over one-third of Americans have a favorable opinion of the president. 

Although observers have frequently labeled McCain a maverick for not more closely supporting Bush administration policies,  Obama is focusing most on linking McCain to Iraq at a time when more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

"I do not think we want to continue a misguided foreign policy and an endless war in Iraq that has cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars while making us less safe and secure," Obama said. "That is the choice in this election.  On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years.  That is the agenda that he and the president are raising money to support."

Obama says he will end the war in Iraq.  McCain says Obama setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops would bring chaos and genocide.

President Bush says Americans are safer because the war is denying terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks.  Endorsing McCain, Mr. Bush said the Navy veteran understands that threat and has the courage to pursue America's enemies.

"John McCain will find out, when he takes the oath of office, his most important responsibility is to protect the American people from harm," Mr. Bush said. "And there is still an enemy that lurks, an enemy that wants to strike us.  And this country better have somebody in that Oval Office who understands the stakes, and John McCain understands those stakes."

McCain says he intends to campaign as much as possible with Mr. Bush given the president's schedule. 

As for the lack of public events, White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino says Mr. Bush is not bothered in the slightest as he fully understands how presidential campaigns work.  

The question for the McCain campaign is what to do with the president at the party's convention in September when the Republican nominee will be seeking to attract both political independents and his own party's more social conservatives who still generally back Mr. Bush.

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