A fundraiser today for Republican gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory is set to feature a big name and a small profile.
President Bush is scheduled to visit the N.C. capital to help raise money for the Charlotte mayor's statewide campaign. But the event – at a private home and closed to the media – is not designed to draw attention.
The inconspicuous nature of Bush's trip illustrates the difficulty that McCrory and fellow Republicans face with the president's approval rating, near 40 percent in North Carolina and around 30 percent nationally.
In a speech at the State Fairgrounds last week, Democrat Barack Obama accused Republican rival John McCain of wanting to serve “George Bush's third term.” McCain highlighted his disagreement with Bush over global warming this week.
McCrory said he's not planning to distance himself from Bush.
“I'll talk about the issues where I've agreed with him and where I've disagreed with him, just as I did with President Clinton,” McCrory said in an interview Thursday. “They're our presidents, and we need to work with them. I respect the office a great deal.”
He also noted the absence of his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, at Obama's recent speech – suggesting she is avoiding her party's new leader.
Today's fundraiser will be at the home of John Kane, a real-estate developer, and it will benefit McCrory's campaign and the N.C. Republican Party. Republicans have not said how much they hope to raise, but tickets start at $4,000.
McCrory said he asked for the president's help the day after winning the May 6 primary. Bush called to congratulate McCrory.
“He offered his help, and I said, ‘Well, I hope you come visit,'” McCrory said.
N.C. Democratic chair Jerry Meek released an Internet video Thursday linking Bush and McCrory. The video includes footage from the 2004 Republican convention, where McCrory praised Bush, and it compares their positions on school vouchers, children's health care and air pollution.
“If you want to know what kind of governor Pat McCrory would be,” the video argues, “just look at what kind of president George Bush has been.”
In response, McCrory accused Perdue of using “the Democratic Party machine” to go negative.
“It was only two months ago that we had positive Bev,” McCrory said. “Now we're back to the same old immature negative attacks on YouTube.”
Asked whether he still thinks Bush is a “great president,” as he said in 2004, McCrory did not answer directly. He highlighted his service on Bush's homeland security council and his cooperation with the Bush administration to build the Lynx Blue Line along South Boulevard.
McCrory cited four areas of disagreement with Bush: federal spending levels, immigration, reliance on foreign oil and the president's rhetoric on the economy.
Republican consultant Marc Rotterman called Bush's visit “a huge net plus.” He said Bush is still an effective fundraiser and predicted that, by November, McCain will replace Bush as the face of Republicans.
“There're very few people that Perdue can bring in to really help her,” said Rotterman, who is not working for McCrory.
That doesn't mean Democrats won't try to use McCrory's praise of Bush against him. They could seek to sway independents, who largely disapprove of Bush and who are a key constituency for McCrory.
“(Bush) is still capable of raising tremendous amounts of money, and that's something every candidate wants,” said N.C. State political scientist Andy Taylor. “But it also makes it easier for the Perdue camp to make the case that McCrory – while he might consider himself a different kind of Republican – is a Bush clone.”
Bush's record is also expected to be a factor as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, runs for re-election against Democrat Kay Hagan. Democrats criticized Dole Wednesday, when Bush attended a Washington fundraiser for Senate Republicans.
Dole spokesman Hogan Gidley said she will not attend today's fundraiser. He said he knows of no discussions about a visit on Dole's behalf.
“Any presidential visit requires a ton of logistics, and we have a busy schedule mapped out for the summer and fall months,” Gidley said.
White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said the president agreed to make the visit because “Mayor McCrory has a proven record of economic growth and is the right man to lead North Carolina.”