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McCain does tricky dance with unpopular Bush

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(CNN) -- President Bush traveled to Arizona on Tuesday for a fundraiser for Sen. John McCain, the first time in more than two months the unpopular president appeared with the man he hopes will succeed him.


Sen. John McCain and President Bush wave Tuesday before Bush boards Air Force One in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bush flew to Phoenix after attending fundraisers for Republican candidates in New Mexico.

The fundraiser in chief raised an estimated $3 million for the Republican National Committee during his stop in Phoenix, The Associated Press reported.

Bush and McCain last appeared together on March 5, when the president endorsed the Arizona Republican at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

Bush, who remains popular with the Republican Party base, has been one of the Republican Party's most prolific fundraisers, and McCain will need help to keep up with Democratic fundraising this fall.

But Bush also suffers from some of the highest disapproval ratings for a president in history, which makes any joint appearances with the president a potential political liability for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Nearly three quarters, 71 percent, of those polled in a CNN survey released on May 1 disapproved of the president. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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Sensing a political advantage, Democrats have repeatedly attempted to tie the GOP's new standard-bearer to the polices of the current administration, saying McCain was running for "a third Bush term."

During a campaign stop in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama knocked him for holding the fundraiser in private.

"Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He's holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why," Obama said. "Sen. McCain doesn't want to be seen, hat in hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.

"But the question for the American people is: Do we want to continue George Bush's policies?" he said.

The Phoenix fundraiser was to be held as a public event at the Phoenix Convention Center but was moved to a private residence. Video Watch the delicate dance McCain's campaign faces »

The McCain campaign said the fundraiser was moved for privacy's sake.

But the Phoenix Business Journal said the event was moved from the convention center due to lackluster ticket sales and concern over anti-war protesters. A McCain aide denied the report on poor ticket sales.

The aide also denied that the event was moved to avoid having the senator and president appear together on camera.

"We have a policy that fundraising events are closed events," the aide said, adding that any confusion about the fundraiser originally being open to the press should be chalked up to the campaign "working out the kinks" on its first event with Bush. Video Watch how Bush has become fundraiser in chief »

The fundraiser was closed to news coverage.

The media will had only one opportunity to photograph the candidate and the president together: at the Phoenix airport Tuesday evening, when Bush headed to Colorado.

The political history between Bush and McCain has been complicated. In 2000, the two engaged in an at times bitter contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

Over the past eight years, however, the two have closed any political rift that emerged in 2000. McCain campaigned for Bush's re-election in 2004, and the Arizona senator has become one of the strongest advocates for the war in Iraq, the thing that is most likely to define President Bush's legacy.


McCain consistently has trailed the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates in fundraising. The $17 million he raised in April was dwarfed by the nearly $31 million raised by Obama and the $21 million raised by Sen. Hillary Clinton.

McCain also trails both Democrats in the amount of cash on hand. He had nearly $22 million in the bank at the end of April, while Obama had more than double that amount -- nearly $47 million -- and Clinton had nearly $30 million.

CNN's Alexander Marquardt, Ed Henry, Mary Snow and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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