Except for the few hundred people who paid the hefty price tag to attend private fundraisers for John McCain's White House bid, the only glimpse most Utahns got of President Bush on Wednesday was through the tinted windows of his limousine as it sped by.
Those contributors, however, not only got to meet the president, but were expected to add millions of dollars to the campaign coffers of McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The two fundraisers cost a minimum of $500 for an afternoon reception in the Avenues and $70,100 per couple for a reception at McCain-rival-turned-supporter Mitt Romney's vacation home in Deer Valley.
The president's Utah visit will end this morning, with his expected departure just before 10 a.m. He is scheduled to meet with the First Presidency of the LDS Church prior to leaving.
The First Presidency did not greet Bush on his arrival but did take a tour of Air Force One later Wednesday. Such tours are often given to select people when the president stays overnight somewhere.
Wednesday in Deer Valley, the reception at Romney's home was so private that not even the presidential press pool was permitted on the property. Instead, they were left at the home of John Miller, a longtime friend and neighbor of Romney and one of his top fundraisers.
Neither the organizers of the events nor McCain's campaign announced the amount raised in Utah Wednesday.
The president's first stop was at an afternoon reception for approximately 300 guests held at the Avenues home of Sam Stewart, founder of a local financial firm. Bush's appearance was preceded by a $10,000 per person luncheon with Romney and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a longtime supporter of McCain.
Among the guests were former Utah governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert; and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, another early McCain supporter.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the president's speech at the Avenues fundraiser "was incredible." In an outside tent overlooking City Creek Canyon and the state Capitol, Bush reminisced about his two terms in office and described why McCain should succeed him.
"I've heard him speak a number of times, and this was the most powerful, intimate speech I've heard him give. Absolutely," Jowers told the Deseret News after the event.
The president "talked very fondly about being president, one great story after another," and at one point even joked that he doesn't have to sit in traffic jams.
"He said, 'You definitely live in a bubble. But it's a pretty comfortable bubble,"' Jowers said.
Bush also recalled giving a speech in Bucharest, Romania, when a rainbow suddenly appeared above the former Communist Party headquarters.
"The story was a testimony to his belief in God," Jowers said.
The president did refer to his own low approval ratings at least outside of GOP-dominated Utah telling the rapt audience that he wasn't worried about being popular.
"He said he started with strong resolve, and he'll end with strong resolve," Jowers said. Bush also said he never dreamed he'd become a wartime president, something his successor will inherit.
He surprised one guest who attempted to videotape his speech, telling him sternly, "No videos," then reportedly smiling. Other guests, however, were able to snap shots of the president with their cell phone cameras.
Huntsman said he helped "kick off" the event. Romney reportedly received a big ovation after being asked about the possibility he would be chosen McCain's running mate. Romney is said to be on a short list of 10 potential vice presidents currently being vetted by the McCain campaign.
Utahn Tim Bridgewater, McCain's Western states regional coordinator, labeled the day "extremely successful." Bridgewater said Romney, who easily beat McCain in the state's Feb. 5 GOP presidential primary with 90 percent of the vote, was a big draw for Utahns, as was the president.
"This kind of event helps to build greater support and helps people loosen their wallets," Bridgewater said.
Utah is expected to go Republican in November even if Romney doesn't end up on the ticket. But Bridgewater said having Romney supporters on board can mean more volunteer help for the McCain campaign, especially in places like Nevada and New Mexico that are considered swing states in the general election.
Still, not everyone in the neighborhood of the afternoon reception was supportive of the president. Across the street, Sheyda Samie, 18, a West High School senior who cut her photo class to try to take a picture of Bush, had decorated her front yard for the occasion with a giant Barack Obama campaign sign plus several others, including one with a peace sign captioned "Back By Popular Demand." She said her family "decided that would be a great thing for everyone to see" and that she hoped Bush noticed.
Bush arrived at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake just before 3 p.m., and spent less than five minutes on the tarmac just enough time to present the President's Volunteer Service Award to Rick Pehrson of South Jordan. The award is one that Bush gives out at many of his stops around the country, and it was presented to Pehrson in the shadow of Air Force One, next to the presidential limousine.
Pehrson, 24, has logged more than 900 hours serving as a team leader with Americorps Youth Service Corp. Pehrson received the award with his mother beside him.
He recruited, trained and managed more than 1,300 volunteers during the Utah State Capitol's rededication and eight-day open house. In addition, he helped organize and facilitate an annual youth conference that emphasizes youth-led service projects.
Pehrson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, served an LDS mission in Ecuador.
"It was incredible," Pehrson said after receiving the award from Bush. "He told me I was a soldier in the army of compassion."
From there, Bush went to the afternoon reception, where he stayed about an hour before returning to the base. From there, he boarded the presidential helicopter, Marine One, and flew to Park City with four similar green U.S. Marine Corps helicopters accompanying him.
His trips through downtown Salt Lake were watched by clusters of people who gathered along the motorcade route to either cheer or jeer the president. Some of the assembled crowd held signs protesting the president, while others waved American flags in support. One man even dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier and held a sign that read "Terrorist, Circa 1776."
The motorcade also frustrated motorists, since the route which included I-80 and portions of surface streets such as State Street and 500 South and 600 South had to be closed for about 20 minutes.In Park City, a small crowd of supporters and protesters gathered near the landing zone for the helicopters, which was on the ballfields adjacent to Park City Middle School, to watch Bush's arrival. For their patience, they saw the iconic helicopter and received a quick wave from the president before he was swept away in another motorcade.