OKLAHOMA CITY President Bush played the role of invisible man on the campaign trail Friday, headlining a closed-door fundraising luncheon for John McCain and the Republican Party with tickets costing as much as $25,000.
McCain was in New York while Bush was in Oklahoma City. The two have not been seen together since a brief appearance after a fundraiser May 27 in Arizona, as McCain tries to put some distance between himself and the unpopular Bush.
No need for McCain to spend the day in Oklahoma, a solidly Republican state and friendly territory for Bush. Even state Democrats acknowledge that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has little chance of winning Oklahoma's seven electoral votes.
Obama, portraying himself as the man of change, has been telling voters that electing McCain would mean another four years of Bush politics. That argument played well in the summer. But more recent polls find that McCain has made progress in separating himself from Bush.
The White House said Friday that Bush is expected to do more fundraisers that will benefit McCain, but it's not sure if the two will appear side-by-side.
Bush did offer off-the-cuff praise for McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, after highlighting health savings accounts at a round-table discussion here. A reporter asked him if he had watched Palin's television interview Thursday night. At first, Bush declined to answer, then he smiled and said: "She did just fine."
Those attending Friday's luncheon, at the home of John Cresap, a wholesale beer distributor, paid a minimum of $1,000 a person. Couples wanting a photo taken with Bush paid $5,000 and those wanting to go to a private reception with the president laid down $25,000.
A Republican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the McCain campaign, said the president would raise $1 million at the Oklahoma City event, which will benefit McCain and other GOP candidates. The dollar amount raised at the three earlier events Bush attended for McCain has not been disclosed.
Overall, Bush has done 38 fundraisers this year, focusing on House candidates and non-incumbents. He's helped relatively unknown House candidates such as Tim Bee in Arizona, Aaron Schock in Illinois and Darren White in New Mexico. On the Senate side, he's raised cash for Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who was just appointed in January and needed to build a war chest, and for John Kennedy, a candidate in Louisiana who was a Democrat until last year and needed an infusion of campaign money. There are 11 governor races this year. So far, Bush has been tapped to help only Pat McCrory, the GOP candidate in North Carolina.
Ivan Holmes, chairman of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma, predicted Obama will garner just 35 percent, perhaps 40 percent, of the vote. He said the Obama campaign hasn't sent many campaign supplies to the state because Oklahoma isn't one of his targeted areas. Still, Holmes said there's been an overwhelming demand for Obama yard signs.
Bush embraced McCain as the party's next standard-bearer in the Rose Garden in March, saying, "I can help raise him money, and if he wants my pretty face standing by his side at one of these rallies, I'd be glad to show up."
Bush started raising money for McCain in May at three fundraisers in Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah. Those three also were closed to the public, and McCain attended only one.
The last time they were seen together in public was after the fundraiser on May 27 in Arizona. The two shook hands on the airport tarmac and smiled and waved at reporters before Bush boarded Air Force One. The goodbye lasted less than a minute.
Bush skipped the Republican convention in St. Paul, giving his blessing to McCain via a video hookup.