President Bush has been careful to avoid party political events since the September 11 terrorist attacks. But now, he is gradually returning to the business of raising money for Republican candidates. He began with an appearance at a Washington fundraiser for his younger brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
It was the president's first appearance at a political fundraiser in this election year. And while the room was filled with well-dressed, smiling donors, there was something different in the air.
President Bush set the tone.
"These are serious times that face our nation. And these serious times require serious leaders," he said. " And you are here to support a really good, serious man."
Political fundraisers are usually known as places to rally the party faithful. . . occasions for hot rhetoric and tough charges against the opposition. But the president made clear that this year he will try to win support for his party while staying above the political fray. "I hope that one of the legacies of my administration will be that results matter more than rhetoric," the president said. " And as we achieve results, it is important to share credit."
In his 10 minute speech, President Bush uttered not one word of criticism of the Democrats. He did not mention last year's contested race for the White House, which was decided in Florida. And he seemed determined to project the image of a wartime commander-in-chief, rather than the leader of a political party.
It fell to his chief-of-staff to issue the strongest political comments of the day. Andrew Card told reporters the president had to start campaigning, because the Democrats are already doing it.
Earlier, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer took strong issue with the notion that it might be better for the president to steer clear of this year's political campaign because of events overseas. Mr. Fleischer said elections are part of the democratic process that Americans are fighting to defend.
"The president always said that in times of war and in times of peace, our elections are what sets us apart as a freedom-loving country, and that what preserves our strength is the fact that we have elections," he said.
Mr. Fleischer said the American people can expect the president to make regular appearances at fundraising events throughout the election year.
"I think you can anticipate as the election year proceeds, the president will work to support candidates who share his views," the spokesman said. "That way, his ideas as president and commander-in-chief can be carried out into law."
The narrow Democratic Party majority in the U.S. Senate is at stake in November, as is the slim Republican Party edge in the House of Representatives. About three dozen of the 50 governor's seats are also being contested.