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President relaxes with party faithful at Republican fund-raiser

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- About 200 people, most of them Republicans who wrote $1,000 checks to get in, watched President Bush's Elmendorf speech on a big screen television while noshing on shrimp and sausage in the atrium at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Upon their arrival, the president and Mrs. Bush went to a small theater off the main room and posed for pictures with supporters who paid $10,000 to the Alaska Republican Party for the privilege.

Curtis Thayer, one of the organizers, said 25 people had opted for the $10,000 option. The $1,000 check will go to a Republican governors fund, said party chairman Randy Ruedrick. That money will be used to help elect whoever wins the Republican Primary, he said.

The president delivered a chatty 10-minute talk leaning on a podium on an unadorned stage. He was talking to the party faithful and seemed relaxed, speaking without notes.

When Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced him, Bush said, ''Thank you, governor, I mean, oops'' and the highly partisan audience laughed with delight.

Bush reminded everyone of his time in Fairbanks and declared himself the only president to ever vote in an Alaska primary.

''And who said your three electoral votes didn't matter,'' he said to whoops and applause.

Bush repeated his commitment to fighting terrorism, his objection to trade restraints, and his support for opening ANWR expressed earlier in his speech at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

But it was his reaffirmation of conservative Republican principles that drew the warmest applause. We used to have a culture that believed ''if it feels good, do it.,'' he said. ''And the next part of that is, if you get in trouble, blame someone else.''

But America is ''beginning to change,'' he said, and his goal is to ''usher in a culture of personal responsibility.''

He and the first lady, accompanied by Frank and Nancy Murkowski, then worked their way through the crowd, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for informal photos.

Terry Dittman got the president to sign an oversized group picture of the Service High School hockey team, ''to inspire them'' in the state championship in Soldotna this weekend, she said.

''He said it all. He's one of us,'' said Murkowski after the president's party headed back to Air Force One.

The Republican Party of Alaska had to pull Saturday's event together in four days and organizers, some of whom had worked all night, sagged with relief when it went off without a hitch.

''I don't know how many people would have wanted to come if we had more time,'' said party chairman Randy Ruedrich.

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Distributed by The Associated Press



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