WASHINGTON - President Bush starts raising money for John McCain's campaign next week, but with the three fundraisers closed and McCain attending only one, there will be almost no chance for the public to see the outgoing and incoming Republican party leaders together.
The White House announced Friday that Bush will be the main attraction at events for the likely GOP presidential nominee on Tuesday and Wednesday in Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah. In addition to building up the McCain campaign account, the fundraisers will also benefit the national Republican Party, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
All are being held in private residences, and one in Utah is being hosted by McCain's former GOP rival, Mitt Romney, a potential vice presidential pick for the Arizona senator.
During the Bush presidency, the press has nearly always been banned from fundraisers in private homes. Former President Clinton sometimes allowed the press into such fundraising settings, at least for his remarks.
Bush press secretary Dana Perino said the fundraisers are closed because it has been the McCain camp's policy to close all money events. "That's their practice and we will respect it," she said. She added, however, that it is possible the two men would appear together waving at television cameras in Arizona upon arrival or departure of the president's plane.
The press has nearly always been banned from Bush's fundraisers in private homes. Former President Clinton sometimes allowed the press into such fundraising settings, at least for his remarks.
Bush's low approval ratings have raised questions about whether he will help or hurt McCain, especially as the Democratic candidates have argued that a McCain administration would amount to a third Bush term. In the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll last month, 28 percent approved of the job Bush is doing, his lowest rating ever in the survey.
Bush and McCain have not been together since March 5, when the president officially announced his endorsement of the likely GOP nominee in the White House's Rose Garden. Officials have declined to elaborate on how much they might campaign together, either to raise money or do traditional campaign rallies.
But the White House and the McCain operation have been coordinating their messages behind the scenes. Perino said a few of Bush's people have been designated to trade information with McCain's aides.
"We want to make sure that we're not stepping on each other's toes or getting in the way of something that they want to accomplish," she said.
For instance, McCain and Bush gave Cuba speeches this week, McCain's on Cuba's independence day, Bush's a day after. Bush announced a minor change in policy, and Perino said the White House offered to give McCain's camp the details ahead of time. However, she said, no one from the campaign called back to take them up on it.
Bush has headlined numerous fundraisers for the Republican National Committee this election cycle, starting last year. That money will certainly be used in large part to boost McCain's campaign. But the events next week are the first involving Bush that directly funnel cash into McCain's campaign.
During Bush's three-day trip, he is also holding official presidential events at a Mesa, Ariz., cable company Tuesday and at the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement Wednesday. Under the complicated formula for allocating the cost of presidential travel when he is doing party events, the presence of official events on his schedule dramatically reduces the cost to McCain's campaign for Bush's campaign appearances.