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Bush Touts Education Initiative at Republican Fundraiser - 2004-01-08

President Bush is on the campaign trail raising money for this year's election. Mr. Bush has a sizable financial lead over his Democratic rivals.

The president's campaign raised more than $130 million last year, finishing strong with $47 million in the last three months.

By comparison, the president's leading challengers have far less. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean raised at least $15 million in the last three months of 2003. Retired General Wesley Clark raised at least $10 million.

Democrats are spending that money as the battle for the party's nomination begins this month. The president's campaign still has nearly $100 million in the bank and is on course to meeting its goal of $170 million by the Republican convention in August.

Mr. Bush adds to that total with nearly two million dollars expected from fundraisers in the southern states of Tennessee and Florida. He is still not an official candidate, and at a luncheon in the Tennessee city of Knoxville, Mr. Bush again said he is still focusing more on his responsibilities as president.

"I'm loosening-up, and I'm getting ready," he said. "But there will be plenty of time for politics because I've got a job to do on behalf of every citizen of this country. I'm focused on the people's business in Washington D.C."

When it does come time for politics, Mr. Bush told his supporters he will need them to be ready to go. "So for those of you who are involved in grassroots politics here in Tennessee, I want to thank you for what you are going to do," he said. "I want to thank you for the signs you are going to put up. I want to thank you for the phone calls you are going to make. I want to thank you for joining us as we turn out the vote to make sure this good state turns out in significant numbers."

Before the fundraiser, President Bush met with education officials at a Tennessee elementary school to champion what he calls the No Child Left Behind reforms, which increase standardized testing and hold schools accountable for the results.

Such an event demonstrates the advantage of incumbency in the presidential campaign. Since a public policy matter was involved in Mr. Bush's trip, the government will pay for half the cost of the president's travel on Air Force One, while the president had another chance to campaign on what he says is his top domestic priority. "The national objective is to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations and to raise the standards for every single child," he said.

Democrats say Mr. Bush is forcing state and local governments to pick-up much of the costs of his education reforms at a time when they are already receiving less federal assistance because of the president's tax cuts.

President Bush says his fiscal year 2005 budget for elementary and secondary education is 48 percent higher than 2001. He is asking Congress for another two billion dollars for funding for disadvantaged students and special education programs.