ORLANDO, Fla. — President Bush put the 2002 fund-raising tally for himself and Vice President Dick Cheney over the $100 million mark Friday with a Florida dinner boosting brother Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial re-election.
The president, told by a reporter that his White House team has far outpaced Bill Clinton in the money chase, replied: “Thank you. I appreciate that compliment.”
He said his younger brother, the incumbent governor being challenged by Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, is “one of the great candidates in the history of Florida.”
Bush made the trip, his 10th to Florida since the state’s disputed 2000 ballots gave him the presidency, under the official banner of a national physical-fitness initiative. His brief stop at a senior citizens’ recreation center, where he dropped in on a cycling class, was the day’s “official business” and allowed the Florida state Republican Party to split the cost of Bush’s travel with taxpayers.
In a business suit, Bush nodded his approval at a dozen seniors pedaling stationary bikes. One of the exercisers, Julian Washington, boasted it was his 86th birthday.
“You gotta be kidding me,” said Bush, shaking his head. “Well, you make my point that if you exercise, you stay young and healthy.”
Nearly 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 do not engage in regular physical activity, Bush said on the second of a four-day campaign highlighting fitness and nutrition.
Fresh off Air Force One, where the lunch menu offered corned beef, steak fries and cheesecake, Bush warned the nation against “loading up with fatty foods all the time.”
He joked that he’s nagging his own family, too, including the famously broccoli-averse former President Bush: “I’ve been working on Dad for a while on the broccoli issue.”
Jeb Bush teased that brother George wasn’t always the fittest in the Bush family.
Back in Washington, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe called Bush’s recreation center drop-by a sham.
“From the $100 million man comes the $150,000 workout,” McAuliffe said. “Today, President Bush flew 800 miles, to raise (more than) $2 million, and expects the taxpayers to pick up the $150,000 tab because he watched an eight-minute workout.”
Bush and his brother headlined the fund-raising dinner at a Universal Studios theme park hotel. The Florida GOP, which is doing plenty to promote Jeb Bush’s individual campaign, was the beneficiary of Friday’s appearance by the president.
Its take marked the $100 million milestone in campaign fund raising by Bush and Cheney this year alone. The total includes money raised not only for the Republican Party but also for individual candidates. By contrast, it took Clinton 10 years — from 1992 to the present — to bring his Democratic Party total to $113 million.
Florida’s Sen. Bob Graham, the Democrat leading a congressional inquiry into the Bush administration’s intelligence failures pre-Sept. 11, accompanied Bush from Washington but only as far as the Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex.
Graham faces re-election here in 2004, the same time Bush will be counting on Florida to fulfill any hopes he has for a second term in the White House.
Noting that the president has been to the Sunshine State five times already this year, Graham quipped: “I think he’s going to have to start paying property taxes.”
Florida is Bush’s second-most visited state as president, after Pennsylvania, which has seen him 11 times in the past 18 months.