Presidential Fundraiser Events

In this tale of Bush fundraisers in two cities, we contrast news coverage in Nashville, where a Republican candidate wants to embrace Bush, with coverage in Little Rock, where another Republican does not.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As we approach the mid-term elections, President Bush has been giving a different series of speeches at Republican fundraisers. He's raised more than $165 million already this election season, but some of the candidates are not eager to draw too much attention to these presidential appearances.

NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Usually if the president's in your city giving a speech, you can pick up some live coverage on TV. Not so in Little Rock yesterday. Just as the president was speaking, this is what Fox Channel 16 had on.

(Soundbite of The Jerry Springer Show)

Mr. JERRY SPRINGER (Television Host): I know you're angry with him, but do you love him?

Unidentified Woman #1: It's over. I'm done with him. I need somebody that's going to help me. I've had a hard life, Jerry.

GREENE: No George W. Bush, just Jerry Springer.

(Soundbite of television show, The Jerry Springer Show)

GREENE: Local TV had no choice. Mr. Bush spoke in a private home at a closed fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson. Mr. Bush raised more than $600,000 for Hutchinson and the state GOP. The president spoke to donors about a number of issues, including the war in Iraq. But with no cameras present, the Channel 11 5:00 News led with residents who stopped to see the motorcade.

(Soundbite of news program, Channel 11, Little Rock)

Unidentified Woman #2: One young mom told us she remembers when her parents and grandparents took her to see Bush, Sr., so it was very important to her to bring her kids to see the president.

(Soundbite of news program, ABC Channel 7, Little Rock)

Unidentified Announcer: Because 7 is news.

GREENE: Over on ABC Channel 7 at 6:00, the president wasn't even the top story. There was a lot to cover first.

(Soundbite of news program, ABC Channel 7, Little Rock)

Unidentified Woman #3: In St. Francis County, four people are taken into custody accused of using snakes to rob a convenience stores.

GREENE: But then came Mr. Bush.

(Soundbite of news program, ABC Channel 7, Little Rock)

Unidentified Man #3 (News Reporter): Channel 7's Michelle Rupp is live tonight with more on Mr. Bush's visit. Michelle?

Ms. MICHELLE RUPP (Reporter, Channel 7, Little Rock): Scott, the $500 a plate luncheon was held at the home of former razorback and NBA player Joe Kleine. More than 800 supporters were expected to attend.

GREENE: It's not that Hutchinson was afraid of being seen with the president. He took Mr. Bush to a local eatery for some fried chocolate pie. Hutchinson's office said he closed the fundraiser, though, to manage the headlines, to keep the public focused on state issues like education and away from Mr. Bush's national agenda, including the war in Iraq. Hoyt Purvis is a professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas who studies politics and the media. He said Hutchinson got just what he wanted.

Professor HOYT PURVIS (University of Arkansas): This is probably the most low-profile presidential event in Arkansas that I can ever recall. There's not a lot to report other than the fact that there was a large group, a very large group apparently, that attended the event.

GREENE: From Little Rock yesterday, the president moved on to Nashville to raise money for Senate candidate Bob Corker. Unlike Hutchinson, who has been behind in the polls, Corker is leading his race. The president's approval ratings appear to be a few points higher in Tennessee than in Arkansas. Corker's event was open to the media.

(Soundbite of news program)

Ms. DEMETRIA (News Reporter, Nashville): Let's begin with Marc Stewart(ph), who is live tonight at the Vanderbilt Plaza. Marc?

Mr. MARC STEWART (News Reporter, Nashville): Demetria, good evening. When the president arrives here, first and foremost he will give a speech to address not only people here at the hotel but Republican voters across the state.

GREENE: Corker and the state party took in $1.5 million, but at a potential cost, added attention on the president's agenda.

(Soundbite of news program)

Unidentified Man #4 (News Reporter): Eventually the speech turned to national security and the war on terror.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: These are historic times, and we must have people in the United States Congress who are -

GREENE: Some Republican candidates this year have publicly embraced the president during campaign visits. Some have accepted his money and avoided any public appearance. Last month, Mr. Bush was in Chicago fundraising for gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka. She opened her event to the media, but while in town, Mr. Bush was told by a local reporter that an aide to Topinka said the campaign wished he had come to raise money in the middle of the night.

Unidentified Man #5 (News Reporter, Chicago): I'm wondering if you're offended by those remarks and whether or not you think your presence may actually harm Republican candidates when you come out to campaign for them.

President BUSH: You know, I'm not offended. First of all, am I offended that you read the person's remarks to me? No, I'm not offended at you reading that at all, nor am I offended at what the person said. The first I've heard it was just then, and I'm coming to lunch. I think it's going to be a pretty successful fundraiser.

GREENE: The president's agenda may be unpopular right now, but the bottom line is he can still rally the party faithful and raise a ton of money. So Republicans are willing to take their chances with that old saying - he who takes the king's coin must play the king's tune.

David Greene, NPR News.

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