President Bush spent less than 24 hours in Utah, but that was enough time for him to raise more than $2 million toward keeping the White House in Republican hands.
Before leaving shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday, the president made his only official stop in the state, a nearly hourlong private meeting with the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"They had a good visit," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.
This was the president's fourth meeting with LDS Church leaders, and his first since the death of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and the sustaining of a new First Presidency.
Topics discussed included President Thomas S. Monson's relationship with Bush's parents, former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, Perino said.
Also talked about were "foreign policy issues, Middle East peace, domestic issues ranging from the economy and energy, and then a little bit about what the president will do" after his term ends in January, she said.
Asked whether Bush raised any religious issues with the First Presidency, Perino said nothing "specifically religious" was discussed. She was one of three White House staffers who sat in on the meeting.
"They did say that they do pray for the president, they support the presidency, and (are) a very patriotic people," Perino said. "But they didn't talk about any specific thing in terms of their church and their needs."
Bush had no public appearances during his visit to the state, which began when Air Force One landed mid-afternoon Wednesday at the Utah Air National Guard Base. He then attended two private fundraisers for the "McCain Victory 2008" fund. The fund benefits the candidacy of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, and the Republican National Committee, as well as several of the party's state committees.
McCain, who reportedly collected some $375,000 in contributions last March at a fundraiser held in the Grand America Hotel, wasn't in Utah for the fundraisers headlined by the president Wednesday.
But Mitt Romney, his former rival in the race for the White House, co-hosted both the $10,000-a-person luncheon held at a private residence in the Avenues and a $70,100-a-couple evening reception held in Romney's massive Deer Valley vacation home.
Those events, along with a $500-a-person opportunity to hear the president speak after the luncheon, raised more than $2 million. Most of that money, about $1.8 million, came from the 60 or so people attending the reception at Romney's house.
There, the president spent almost three hours talking and posing for pictures with donors able to afford the high price tag, a group that included many of Romney's top fundraisers from around the country, such as John Miller.
"The president was gracious. He took a lot of time," said Miller, who is Romney's longtime friend and neighbor in Deer Valley. "He said, 'I don't have a prepared speech, so ask me questions."'
The donors asked about everything from the Iraq war to the declining economy, as well as McCain's bid for the presidency and even the possibility Romney could be chosen as McCain's running mate.
Miller said that was one question Bush avoided answering.
"He was really smart," Miller said. "He dodged that one."
The donors gathered in the living room of Romney's massive log-style home apparently felt they got their money's worth. "There wasn't a person in the room who didn't feel like it was a real treat," Miller said.
He said Bush wasn't guarded in his comments and was "extremely well-versed on all subjects. He was funny. He was articulate. He was self-depreciating. ... but very serious about his commitment in Iraq and some of his frustrations with Congress."
Perino, who spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon aboard Air Force One en route to the president's next stop, a fundraiser for a congressional candidate in Kansas, said Bush hasn't taken questions at recent fundraisers.
Typically, she said, he talks "about Republicans and the issues that we stand for, the importance of national security, the importance of keeping taxes low for the economy, the compassionate conservatism types of things."
Taxpayers are only footing part of the bill for the president's trip, which included an overnight stay in a Park City hotel and transportation to and from the ski area via a fleet of helicopters that included Marine One and a motorcade of more than a dozen vehicles.
A White House spokesman said the government pays for the official portion of the president's trip this time, only the meeting with LDS Church leaders and the political entity involved picks up the cost of any political activity, less security costs.
"When the president travels and there is a political event on the schedule, the government does not incur any additional costs," the spokesman, Trey Bohn, said in a statement to the Deseret News.
Bush left Utah quickly Thursday just as rain started falling at the air base. He did not come across the tarmac to greet several dozen airmen gathered to watch his departure on Air Force One, much to their disappointment."When I saw the rain, I thought he wouldn't get too close," said Cindy Rodriguez, an airman from New York. Unlike many of the other airman waiting to see the president, she had not seen him during his last visit to Utah, in 2006. "It was good while it lasted, but it's sad."
Contributing: Leigh Dethman
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