President Bush on Friday thanked about 1,100 people in Jackson for making hefty donations to the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Haley Barbour, but he says more needs to be done to get his friend into the Governor's Mansion.
"You've got to turn out to vote,'' Bush said. "You've got to go to your coffee shops and tell the people who may not be quite as interested in politics as you are that there's a lot at stake for Mississippi.''
Each person in the crowd paid at least $1,000 for a luncheon of roast pork, potatoes and chocolate torte at the Mississippi Coliseum. Organizers for Barbour hoped the event would raise $1.2 million for the Republican's campaign against Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Bush was in Mississippi as part of a three-state swing, starting in Georgia and ending in Texas.
In his address, he cited his long-standing friendship with Barbour, a Washington lobbyist who headed the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s when Bush ran for governor of Texas. Barbour was a key political adviser to Bush's father.
"I know him well,'' Bush said. "So when I say, for example, he believes in personal responsibility, I know he believes that way. When he says he's going to focus on education, make sure no child is left behind in Mississippi, I know he believes that.''
The president also touched on the economy, education, the battle against terrorism and tort reform. He said the state needs a governor who will "fight for real, meaningful litigation reform. You don't want it said that the fastest growth industry in your state is the plaintiffs' bar.''
Bush also urged U.S. Senate Democrats not to block his 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Charles Pickering of Laurel.
"He's a man who will interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. Some senators are playing politics with America's justice. They did this man and this country a disservice,'' Bush said.
While the event was occurring at the coliseum, Musgrove was at the Governor's Mansion sponsoring a luncheon to honor award-winning math and science teachers. Musgrove has said he has no intention of asking Washington Democrats to come down and campaign for him.
"This race is not about who can put the most ads on television and it's not about who's got the most political friends in Washington. This race is about leadership,'' Musgrove said. "It's about setting priorities, and it's about putting Mississippi first.''
Barbour on Friday said he was honored to have Bush's help.
"As governor, President Bush accomplished in Texas what I'm going to help accomplish in Mississippi,'' Barbour said. "He defeated a liberal Democrat, put a brake on out of control spending, passed serious tort reform, cracked down on crime ... and he accomplished all this by getting a Democrat-controlled Legislature to adopt his agenda.''
Monitors hanging from the rafters displayed Bush and other speakers, as well as a short film of Barbour on the campaign trail. Barbour also debuted his campaign song, "We Can Do Better,'' a blues-rock tune penned by Michael Barranco.
Among Mississippi's top GOP leaders attending the luncheon were U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and former Gov. Kirk Fordice.
Former U.S. Rep. G.V. "Sonny'' Montgomery, a Democrat, said Bush's speech was "well-done.''
"I thought it fit the crowd, fit Mississippi,'' Montgomery said. "I was glad to see the president here. He's a good friend of mine and he likes our state.''
Bush's appearance probably won't convert throngs of Mississippians into Barbour supporters but it could fuel the Republican's campaign, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"Bush can elevate the energy of GOP activists, helping Barbour raise more money and secure volunteers. That's the key. He's not going to sway hundreds of thousands of votes by making a visit. It's September. The election's in November,'' Sabato said.
Barbour and Musgrove are neck-in-neck in fund-raising. The latest campaign finance reports show Musgrove had raised $5.5 million and Barbour had raised $5.3 million through late July. The next reports are due Oct. 10.
Barbour's campaign paid for rental of the coliseum and security, said Quinton Dickerson, Barbour's communications director. It was not clear how much the campaign would clear after the expenses.
Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a Barbour fund-raising luncheon in Biloxi in June. Other big-name Republicans, including U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, have made campaign appearances for Barbour in Mississippi. Sabato said there's no need for Musgrove to call on Washington help.
"He will rise or fall to a great degree on his own record. He is already gubernatorial,'' Sabato said. "Barbour has to pass that threshold and Bush helps him to do so.''