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Minneapolis, Minn. — About 800 people paid $1,000 each to attend the Kennedy fundraiser. For $10,000, they could have their picture taken with the president. Instead of a sit-down meal, they milled about, eating finger food in a ballroom at the Minneapolis Hilton.
Then they stood near the stage to hear President Bush and Mark Kennedy address the crowd. Kennedy, who represents Minnesota's suburban 6th District, praised Bush's policies on the economy and homeland security.
"In an era when too many politicians, particularly those in the other party, only talk about what they're against, this is a president that has provided bold leadership on tough issues," said Kennedy, "like how do we grow the economy and create jobs, like how do we make sure we're appointing judges that will interpret the Constitution, not write it in their own will."
Bush said Kennedy would be the type of senator he could work with, and urged Minnesotans to send him to the U.S. Senate.
"He brings common-sense values to Washington, D.C. He's not one of these kind of fancy guys, he's a guy that gets the job done. He focuses on results, he works on behalf of the people, he'll make a great United States Senator for Minnesota," said Bush.
Bush said he and Kennedy share a philosophy of limited government and lower taxes. Bush said tax cuts have helped the economy grow, and he ticked off a series of positive economic statistics, from low unemployment to high homeownership rates.
Bush also focused on the U.S. presence in Iraq, and said those who call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops there are wrong. He called Iraq the central front in the war against terrorism.
"We'll defeat the terorists in Iraq. We will not let al-Qaida take a stronghold, get a stronghold in Iraq. We'll help this country develop a democracy, which will send a powerful signal to people in Damascus, and Tehran," Bush said.
As the president spoke, more than 200 protesters gathered across the street, holding signs criticizing Bush and Kennedy. Two men wearing Bush and Cheney masks paraded around mock war detainees in orange jumpsuits, as a carnival barker offered the scene as a photo opportunity.
"Step right up, get your picture taken with a real life war criminal," he shouted.
Other protesters criticized mounting deficits and cuts to programs for the poor.
Beth Jones of Hopkins held a sign that said "Minnesota is blue because of you," a reference to the color ascribed to Democratic states. Jones says she's upset about the war in Iraq, and says she'd like to tell Kennedy she won't vote for him.
"You are taking George Bush's money, but then you are trying to distance yourself from his policies, and I don't see much difference between Mark Kennedy and George Bush," said Jones.
Kennedy's campaign has said he is an independent thinker, and disagrees with Bush on issues ranging from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the No Child Left Behind education law.
A few blocks from the Kennedy fundraiser, one of Kennedy's DFL opponents held an event designed to mock the high-priced presidential luncheon. Ford Bell provided a free barbeque for veterans.
"The president is charging citizens $10,000 at a time when we're short-changing the veterans," said Bell. "We've underfunded the Veterans Administration, we've underfunded veterans health care."
About 50 people showed up for Bell's lunch. Other Democrats in the race are Amy Klobuchar and Patty Wetterling. Veteran and political newcomer Harold Shudlick is also running as a Republican.
The presidential visit was a huge financial boost to Kennedy's campaign. With a single event, Kennedy raised more than the $800,000 he brought in from July through September.
Kennedy supporters say he needs to raise a lot of money to compete in what's certain to be a closely-watched race to fill the open seat now held by Democrat Mark Dayton.
Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad says the race could be the most hard-fought Senate contest in Minnesota's history, and possibly the most contentious in the country next year.