President George W. Bush is trying to scoop up an historic $200 million at political fundraising events to kick off his reelection campaign -- even though he has no challengers in the Republican primaries.
But it's not all self-serving. His Republican strategists indicate the president has larger ambitions this time around. He wants to transform the GOP into the majority party by capturing traditional Democrats and swing voters.
Bush will be aiming for Latinos, white union workers, and "soccer moms" who have been re-dubbed "security moms" since 9-11. He has the conservatives and Christian right solidly in his corner.
Marc Racicot -- moving from chairman of the Republican National Committee, to head the Bush reelection committee -- hopes to recruit candidates who share the president's conservative agenda.
He also has set an ambitious goal of registering three million new Republicans by the end of the year and is willing to spend $1 million to achieve that goal.
But I wonder if Bush's popularity can offset the unpredictable economy and loss of nearly three million jobs since he took office. There is also the unfinished business of two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bush's fundraising goal is twice the amount for his first presidential race. All he has to do is show up at about 10 lunches, dinners and receptions over the next five weeks and the money will flow.
Deep-pocket Republican guests will pay $2,000 to attend most of the events.
It looks like payback time for those big-wad corporate chieftains who hit the jackpot with his new tax-cut-for-the-rich law.
Nor has he given up on another carrot for the wealthy contributors -- repeal of the federal estate tax. Why does he need all that money?
Well, his spokesman, Ari Fleischer explains that Bush has nine Democratic opponents at the moment taking political swipes at him. Answering them will take some time and money. Besides, he said, "the president wants to get his message out."
The Bush war chest is expected to finance television commercials that will play up the president's image as the military's commander-in-chief conducting the war on terrorism.
He also may tout congressional passage of his confusing prescription drug plan for Medicare patients. This will amount to the president's theft of a key Democratic issue.
Aides said the president also would use his TV ads to attack his Democratic opponents as being captive of liberal interest groups, presumably a reference to the union support they receive.
Last week, Bush raised $3.5 million at a casual get-together over hot dogs, cheeseburgers and nachos.
There, the president told the gathering that "your support is laying the groundwork for a strong nationwide effort next year."
He added -- probably with tongue in cheek: "The political season will come in its own time. Right now, this administration is focused on the people's business."
Last Friday, Bush he flew to Greensboro, Ga., for another get-together with the GOP faithful who chipped in a cool $2.2 million. On Monday he attended another fundraiser in New York City and raked in $4 million.
More presidential stops are slated for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa before the end of July.
Under federal law, Bush has to use the millions collected before the GOP nomination convention wraps up work in early September 2004.
Although Bush didn't check off the $3 public funding fee on his income tax return, he will accept public funding in the general election, but not in the primaries.
When reporters asked Fleischer whether there was "a dash of hypocrisy" or a "disconnect" between accepting federal matching funds but not contributing to the fund, he danced around the issue.
He replied that Bush is in "pretty good company" because only 12 percent or down to 8 percent of the American people check the box.
"That's the way our system works," he said.
All of the Democratic presidential aspirants have indicated that they will accept federal matching funds -- up to $44 million -- in the primaries. They lack the clout to tap into the big donors as Bush is doing.
Bush has two crowd-drawing pinch hitters already fanning out to back him up. His wife Laura has a couple of dozen fundraising appearances on tap before the end of the summer. Vice President Cheney is also making appearances on the high-stakes fundraising circuit.
Bush has told his affluent supporters that he has the "wind" at his back, an Irish expression of good luck.
In Bush's case, the wind takes the form of Republican friends who are rolling in dough and willing to shell out to help his reelection campaign.
© 2003 Hearst Newspapers