Saturday, June 7, 2003

Bush fund-raisers expect big bucks from Cincinnati

Indian Hill's Mercer Reynolds leads national effort

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati could be one of the top half-dozen cities in the fund-raising efforts to re-elect President Bush, with a national target of more than $150 million before the Republican convention next summer.

That's the job of Cincinnati businessman Mercer Reynolds, a former business partner of the president and most recently the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. The new campaign finance chairman seems undaunted by one of the most ambitious fund-raising goals in U.S. political history.

"This is something I did quite well last time (in 2000), and I understand what's needed to be successful," Reynolds said this week from Washington. He returned from Switzerland in late March, was appointed to the campaign in mid-May, and will start to hit campaign events next week.

"Four years ago, you had brand-new people supporting this man from Texas," he added in a telephone interview. "The campaign was very energized, and it got started a lot earlier. But now we have a sitting president who has tremendous popularity."

Reynolds' relationship with Bush dates back to business dealings in 1980 in Texas, and includes ownership in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Four years ago, Bush raised more than $100 million. This year, Reynolds hopes a group of "rangers" can raise up to $200,000 each, added to the "pioneers" who raised $100,000 each in 2000.

Reynolds started the effort with a letter to supporters around the country in late May.

There will be no shortage of ranger candidates in Cincinnati, from Reynolds' longtime business partner Bill DeWitt to Reds owner Carl Lindner to Cintas Corp. chairman Richard Farmer.

"We're going to have tremendous support for the president, and he's done a wonderful job," said DeWitt, who is helping to organize a fund-raiser featuring first lady Laura Bush June 25 in Indian Hill.

Reynolds is now concerned with much more than Cincinnati. He'll be accompanying the president to many fund-raisers, and will have contact with the biggest donors in the country.

Although Reynolds and DeWitt helped raise millions for Bush in 2000 in Ohio and more than $30 million more as co-chairmen of the Inaugural Committee, more experienced fund-raisers wanted the finance chief job, said U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, a close associate of both Bush and Reynolds.

What makes Reynolds perfect for the job is the way Bush trusts him, Portman said.

"He comes across as somebody who's doing this for all the right reasons, and he is," Portman said. "So many people in Washington have their particular agenda. Mercer has no agenda, other than wanting to help the president."

Reynolds, who has been commuting to Washington from Sunday to Thursday, said he can "certainly talk to the president if I need to."

"But the president's running the country, and our job at the campaign is to run the campaign and get him elected," he added.

New campaign finance laws should help, he said. Although candidates no longer can tap unregulated "soft money" contributed to political parties, they can ask for $2,000 from each donor, double the previous limit.


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