Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003 | 11:06 a.m.
Republican President Bush made his first Las Vegas visit a lucrative one, taking in more than $1.2 million for a re-election campaign that is far outpacing its Democratic rivals at the cash register.
One campaign estimate is that the fund-raising total could reach $1.4 million for Bush, who told supporters at a Venetian luncheon Tuesday that his administration has passed every test it has faced in his first three years in office.
At 34 minutes in duration, it was a classic campaign stump speech, long on optimism about America's future while embracing his "compassionate conservatism." He listed accomplishments and legislative goals -- from the economy to the war on terrorism -- and he proudly supported the Medicare overhaul bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
As for the war on terrorism, Bush cited the accomplishment of bringing freedom to 50 million residents of Afghanistan and Iraq while preventing further terrorist attacks at home.
"The terrorists declared war on America and war is what they got," Bush said. "We caught a lot of key leaders of al-Qaida and the rest know we're on their trail.
"The war on terror continues. The enemies of freedom are not idle and neither are we. We will not rest, we will not tire, we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed."
He conceded that danger continues in Iraq because of attacks from those loyal to deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. That led to his angriest line:
"The United States will never be intimidated by a bunch of thugs," Bush said.
But on the subject of domestic affairs, he made no mention of federal government efforts to ship high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a position most Nevadans have opposed.
Although Bush carried Nevada in 2000 after promising in that campaign that he would not approve Yucca Mountain without the backing of sound science, he signed a bill last year to make the Nevada site the nation's nuclear waste repository. Critics in Nevada said he made his decision without considering sound science.
Bush was not available for media questioning on this or any other subject. And the well-heeled luncheon attendees -- an estimated 875 strong, though contributions to the event came from more than 1,100 individuals -- were oblivious to the anti-Bush protests outside the Strip resort, who targeted Yucca Mountain among other things.
Gov. Kenny Guinn, who introduced Bush, never mentioned Yucca Mountain but noted that they don't agree on everything.
A sampling of donors who attended the speech said they thought that Bush hit all the right marks and most said they weren't surprised that he failed to address Yucca Mountain.
"I thought it was a wonderful speech," casino mogul Steve Wynn said. "He's a wonderful president."
Former Nevada Gov. Bob List, a pro-nuclear lobbyist who has argued for Yucca Mountain, called Bush "energetic, forceful and sincere."
As for Bush's failure to address Yucca Mountain, List said that "to many people who would like to make it a pivotal issue, there's probably some disappointment.
"But in reality, it's in the hands of scientists," List said. "He said his decision would be based on sound science and it was. I didn't expect him to address it."
One donor who expressed disappointment was singer Phyllis McGuire.
"I felt that certain things should have been addressed that weren't," she said. McGuire then confirmed that Yucca Mountain was one of those topics.
But she also said, "He's doing the best he can under the circumstances, I think."
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., one of many Nevada politicians acknowledged by Bush at the beginning of his address, said he thought the president's speech was "great" for reasons similar to those expressed by List. Gibbons also said he wasn't surprised that Yucca Mountain escaped mention.
"I disagree with this president on the issue of Yucca Mountain," Gibbons said. "I know there's a tremendous amount of concern in Nevada about Yucca Mountain. Nevada has come to realize that we're fighting 49 other states."
In the introduction, Guinn said Bush deserved to win re-election.
Bush then made his case for four more years in the White House after the November 2004 general election.
"I came to this office to solve problems instead of passing them on to future presidents and future generations," he said. "This administration is meeting the tests of our time.
"We're focusing on the people's business by focusing on results. I've put together one of the greatest teams ever to serve the people of America."
The president boasted about the nation's economic recovery -- an 8.2 percent growth rate for the third quarter of this year that he said was the highest in 20 years -- that he attributed in part to his massive federal tax relief package. He also talked of cracking down on corporate scandals and he discussed the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is aimed at improving public education.
Most of the top Democratic presidential candidates have already had fund-raisers in Southern Nevada this year but none came anywhere near the amount of money raised by Bush. As of Sept. 30, Bush had raised $85.2 million nationally. The top Democrat, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, had raised $25.4 million.
The fact the fund-raiser was held at The Venetian was not a random selection by the Bush campaign team. Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson is one of the gaming industry's staunchest supporters of the national Republican Party, having repeatedly contributed six-figure sums in soft money to the party and its spin-off committees.
"It's just a wonderful honor to have him at The Venetian," William Weidner, president and chief operating officer of Venetian owner Las Vegas Sands Inc., said of Bush. "We are real Republican fans. And we are fans of the president and what he's doing in the war against terrorism."
The fund-raiser was organized with the assistance of Larry Ruvo, a major Nevada liquor distributor and state finance chairman of the Bush campaign who helped raise $400,000 earlier this year when he played host to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Other luminaries on the host committee were Guinn, Wynn, Mandalay Resort Group Chairman Michael Ensign, public relations mogul and former ambassador Sig Rogich and political consultant Pete Ernaut. They had a private backstage meeting and photo session with Bush at The Venetian before the president gave his remarks.
Also in attendance were Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, Attorney General Brian Sandoval, who chairs the state Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign committee, Secretary of State Dean Heller, state Controller Kathy Augustine, Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., and several state legislators.