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President returns to fund-raising circuit

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Praising his brother for putting people before politics, President Bush on Wednesday hit the political fund-raising circuit for the first time since the September 11 attacks, speaking at a reception to raise money for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

"He says what's on his mind, not based upon polls or focus groups, but based upon conviction," Bush said of his brother, who is running for re-election. "There's no doubt in my mind that he is not only one of the greatest governors of Florida's history, but he is one of the great governors of our nation and he deserves a second term."

Bush called his brother a "deeply compassionate man" who "speaks straight with Florida voters."

The evening was a double-header of sorts with a $500-per-person cocktail reception that benefited Jeb Bush's campaign and a $5,000-per-person dinner that benefited the Florida Republican Party. The Bush campaign and the Florida GOP both refused to release numbers on how many people were invited and how much money they expected to raise.

When asked how much money he expected to raise, Jeb Bush said, "I hope a lot."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer defended Bush's sojourn back onto the political stump.

"This is an election year," he said. "And I think you can anticipate as the election year proceeds, the president will work to support candidates who support his views. That way, his ideas as president and commander-in-chief can be carried out into law."

Gov. Bush, following the Oval Office signing of a new agreement between Florida and the Bush administration to protect the Florida Everglades, told reporters he thought the time was right for his brother to return to the political stage.

"I think he had an obligation early on, particularly to stay focused, as he has so magnificently, on his duties as commander-in-chief," said Jeb Bush. "And as time goes on, I think it is important to slowly get back to helping other candidates, and I am glad I am the first one out of the box." The Florida governor said his brother practices "the honorable side of politics" and suggested the president's motivation to headline a fund-raiser might also have something to do with family.

"He is my brother, I know it seems strange, but I helped him, he helps me -- we love each other," he said.

The Florida governor's race could be one of the most interesting in the nation, because former Attorney General Janet Reno has said she will run on the Democratic side. Ten other Democrats have also filed paperwork that lays the groundwork for a run for the governor's office.

The president dabbled a bit in politics Tuesday, traveling to New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary, as part of a three-state swing to tout the landmark education reform measure he signed into law earlier in the day. During his visit to the state, Bush met privately with Republican supporters. Aides said the event was not a political fund-raiser.

In the weeks ahead, Bush also plans to focus on the economic slowdown, pressing Congress to pass an economic stimulus package and also discussing ways to boost the number of jobs in the country.

A senior administration official told CNN that Bush would deliver a number of speeches on the economy this month and would likely deliver a speech on "all aspects" of the economy in the days leading up to the State of the Union address slated for January 29.




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