GOP Fund-Raiser Hauls In $4 Million; Donors See Harsh Realities
HOUSTON (AP) _ Republican donors, relieved to find President Bush’s re-election campaign coming to life, forked over $4 million Wednesday at an unmistakably Texan fund-raising gala.
All the festive props - galloping horses, cheerleaders, lassoes, wagon wheels and even Uncle Sam on stilts - couldn’t match the sighs of anxious donors who have watched Bush’s popularity plummet in recent months.
″We began wondering when they’d wake up,″ said retired Houston businessman Dale Wooddy as he emerged from the $1,000-per-ticket fund-raiser. ″Now let’s get on with it.″
″We’ve been waiting for this.... It was a very disappointing summer,″ added Leon C. Hirsch, chairman of U.S. Surgical Corp. and one of the Republican Party’s elite $100,000 donors. Inside the cavernous George R. Brown convention center, 4,000 giddy donors were treated to an extravaganza highlighted by the entrance of Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle and their wives aboard a miniature train.
A star-spangled band blared ″Deep in the Heart of Texas″ and actress Cheryl Ladd gave her best ″y’all’s″ and ″howdees″ while her Hollywood co- emcee Gerald McRaney gave a John Wayne impression.
Actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, two big Bush financial supporters, were freed from performing duties as they sat at the head table while servers dressed as cowboys and cowgirls hauled fried chicken dinners from chuck wagons to the tables.
The $4 million the party took in will be split between the GOP’s general fund and its soft money account that pays for activities like get-out-the-vote drives at the state level, officials said.
The party leaders - Bush and Quayle included - were festive, confident and lighthearted in their remarks. But they also were candid about the sobering realities of being 20 points behind Democrat Bill Clinton in the polls.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, the favorite son and convention keynote speaker, told donors it would take ″the greatest political comeback in history″ for Bush to win and that the campaign wouldn’t even be in a ″dead heat″ with Clinton until mid-October.
Afterwards in an interview, Gramm said he was intentionally candid with the donors who had survived several months of a ″one-sided campaign″ as Bush saved his attacks despite incessant bashing from Democrats.
″It’s our turn now. And they (supporters) are going to like what they see from here on in,″ he said.
The vice president took the lead in making light about the scars the ticket has endured during a summer of Democratic bashing, at one point quipping that the huge gap in the polls was planned as a ″trap″ for Democrats.
Quayle, seeking to abandon the defensive posture he once held to public criticism, also poked fun at his widely publicized misspelling of potato by telling the crowd he spelled liberal ″C-L-I-N-T-O-N,″ and, after a pause for effect, ″E.″
″Mr. President ... I would do almost anything you asked. But I want you to know there is one thing I will never do for you again. I will not represent you at a spelling bee,″ he said.
Bush also used humor when AIDS protesters who apparently snuck into the gala’s press gallery interrupted his speech and were hauled away.
″For those of you who haven’t been around my line of work lately, this is normal,″ he quipped. ″... Now, does anybody else have something they would like to say while we’re all standing?″