President Bush was the star attraction Wednesday night at a Republican Party gala in Washington. It was his first appearance at a political fundraiser since last December.

The president put a moratorium on political fundraising during the lead-up to the Iraq war, and the weeks of combat that followed.

But now, he is actively involved in efforts to help his party raise billions of dollars in advance of next year's national election.

Mr. Bush recently took legal steps to launch his own 2004 re-election bid. With his popularity in voter preference polls still at high levels, this is expected to be the first of many direct appeals he will make to prospective donors for funds for his own campaign, and those of other Republicans.

About 5,000 tickets were sold for the party's presidential gala at Washington's new convention center, and the final attendance could be much higher. Before the event there were predictions it could raise more than $20 million for Republican running for seats in the U.S. congress.

The president's speech to the party faithful focused on a theme sure to echo throughout the campaign: the need to protect both the national security and the economic security of the United States. Mr. Bush spoke of successes so far in the war on terrorism, though he said it is far from over.

"This country will not rest, we will not tire, we will not stop until the danger to civilization is removed," he said.

He then brought up the war in Iraq, saying his administration has been a firm defender of freedom.

In a preview of campaign events to come, he also focused on the Republican party's domestic agenda, and the accomplishments of the current Republican-dominated Congress. He said there is much to be done in areas ranging from the economy to education to health care. But he said he is optimistic, saying Republicans are producing results.