Bush visits Reno to stump for Heller in House race
RENO (AP) – President Bush urged Nevadans on Monday to give their time and money to help elect Republican Dean Heller in a race Bush said was important to the GOP maintaining control of Congress, extending tax cuts and winning the war on terror.
“I’m hear to say as clearly as I can: Dean Heller is the right person for the United States Congress,” Bush told about 500 party faithful during a two-hour stop in Reno.
“He and I share our priorities – our faith, our family and our country,” the president told voters in the 2nd Congressional District, which has not elected a Democrat since it was created 25 yeas ago.
“Obviously this is a race that my administration considers to be an important race. That’s why I got on the airplane after meeting with the prime minister of Turkey to come out here and help Dean,” Bush said.
His visit was met with noisy protests from Democrats who think this is the year for finally taking the seat out of the red column. About 100 protesters rallied near the Mercury Air Center at Reno-Tahoe International Airport where Bush arrived shortly after 4:30 p.m.
“I think it’s an indication of how desperate the Republicans have gotten to try to hang onto a seat that just a year ago was considered a slam dunk for the Republicans,” said Pam duPre, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party.
Heller, Nevada’s secretary of state, is running against Democrat Jill Derby, an 18-year veteran of the state board of regents, for the seat being left open by Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons’ bid for governor after five terms in Congress.
There was no indication Bush was aware of the protest, which took place about a half mile from the airport hangar where the president appeared.
He gave a 25-minute speech at a reception that helped Heller raise $360,000. Donors paid $500 to attend the reception, held on a cement-floored hangar decorated with blue curtains. Some paid $2,100 to also be photographed with the president.
“It’s a good sign, Dean, when your friends and neighbors are willing to put a little hard-earned cash into the hat in order to help you. But he’s going to need more than your money, he’s going to need your time,” Bush said.
“Go to your houses of worships or your community centers and say, ‘We’ve got a good man in Dean Heller,'” Bush said.
“He loves his family, he loves his country, he loves the people of the 2nd Congressional District.”
Heller said Bush’s visit shows the importance party leaders are placing on keeping the seat in the GOP column. Democrats need to gain 15 seats nationwide to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“To have them here stumping for me is beyond my biggest dreams,” Heller said this weekend.
Bush devoted much of his speech to the war on terrorism.
“I want you all to remember when you go to the polls here in Nevada, what political party supported the president to make sure we have the tools necessary to protect the American people and which political party didn’t,” he said.
Bush criticized some Democrats for voting against legislation that authorizes warrantless monitoring of phone calls and e-mails to detect terror plots and another bill that would allow tough interrogation of terror suspects.
“It sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is to wait until we’re attacked again,” Bush said.
“This is an important election. We need people in the United States who see the world the way it is, not the way we would hope it would be now,” he said.
Bush also warned that if Democrats take control of Congress they are sure to raise taxes.
“They are going to have their hand in your pocket,” he said. “Dean Heller would be a fine congressman when it comes to watching your money.”
In his speech, Bush also recognized former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, Gov. Kenny Guinn and Reno Mayor Bob Cashell. He also urged support for Gibbons, who was at a fundraiser in Salt Lake City, and for Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who is running for re-election against Jack Carter, son of former President Carter.
Republicans always have held the congressional seat that covers more than 100,000 square miles – nearly the entire state except for Las Vegas. Republicans hold an edge of more than 47,000 registered, mostly rural voters, but polls make it a close race.
The protesters gathered a short distance from the air center, chanting “Vote for Change.” They were urged on by Robert McHaney, who used a loudspeaker to shout, “Come on, let Bush hear you.”
Democrat Party members were joined by others protesting Bush’s visit.
“Our message is to say that we want our troops home,” said Lisa Stiller of the Reno Anti-war Coalition.
Mark Prichard, who said he represented “The Committee to Not Elect Jim Gibbons Governor,” wore a Bush mask and carried a sign saying, “Photo with the prez 21 cents.”
DuPre said Democrats chances of winning the seat have improved as Bush’s approval rating has dropped.
“I also think corruption that is rampant in the Republican Congress has changed public opinion, and certainly the war in Iraq plays a role,” duPre said.
“When your own retired generals and your own intelligence experts are saying that the threat of terrorism is worse today than it was five years ago, then this country is on a desperately wrong course and people are reacting to that,” she said.
“Our message is that if you want more of the same, if you think we should stay the course in Iraq, stay the course on health care costs and stay the course on tax cuts for the wealthy, then vote for Dean Heller and vote for Republicans,” duPre said.
“But if you think this country is headed in the wrong direction, then let’s vote for change and that, of course, is a vote for Jill Derby.”
Derby did not intend to attend the rally because she was touring Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, duPre said.
– Associated Press writer Tom Gardner also contributed to this report.
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