Courier News

photo includes NJCA staff at protest rallyBush Touts Kean Jr.'s Character, Morals

Ex-President Stumps For Senatorial Candidate In Bridgewater

Courier News — Thursday, September 7, 2006

Staff Writer

BRIDGEWATER — Former President George H.W. Bush, demonstrating he hasn't lost his touch with a crowd, was greeted with cheers and applause Wednesday night at the Bridgewater Marriott while stumping for Tom Kean Jr.

Kean, R-Westfield, who is in a heated U.S. Senate race with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken, held a campaign fundraiser, which drew about 300 people and was estimated would raise from $250,000 to $300,000, said his spokeswoman, Jill Hazelbaker.

Bush, settling into the business at hand, praised Kean's character, ethics and family upbringing.

"Issues come and go, but character is what remains," he said. "I believe Tom Kean has the character to make a positive and immediate difference in the U.S. Senate."

The event included either a $5,000 private reception and photo opportunity with the former president or a $500 per person ticket to a general reception, which included comments from Bush and former Gov. Thomas Kean, who beamed as he introduced his son.

Addressing the crowd, Bush said, "Your continued support is so crucial and so vital."

Kean Jr. introduced the former president, thanking him for being an unknowing matchmaker -- Kean Jr. and his wife met at the Environmental Protection Agency during Bush's administration.

"This is as good a time as any for me to say, 'Thank you, Mr. President,' " said Kean Jr., whose wife, Rhonda, stood nearby.

Bush said he could now think of himself as a "kind of e-Harmony guy," drawing hearty laughs from a room that included local GOP leaders as well as former Cabinet members of Kean Sr.'s administration.

Looking tanned and relaxed as he referenced his life of unemployment -- having spent the last five months in Maine – Bush said about half the crowd had asked the whereabouts of his wife, Barbara.

"Hey, I was president," he said, delivering his line straight-faced.

Referring to his more recent joint efforts with former President Clinton on behalf of the tsunami victims and other causes, Bush said his wife referred to them as "the odd couple."

Clinton also was stumping Wednesday in the Garden State – on behalf of the Menendez campaign. The fundraiser was held at the home of state Sen. Raymond Lesniak in Elizabeth. That reception cost $1,000.

Sharon McKoy, 39, of Plainfield said she came to Kean Jr.'s fundraiser to hear the candidate's opinions. But what stuck with her, she said, was "how President Bush spoke about Kean's morals."

McKoy, who said she did not vote for the former president, said she has not made up her mind about who she will vote for in November. She said she also hopes to attend a Menendez fundraiser.

When asked what she ate at the reception, McKoy replied, "Nothing that was worth 500 bucks."

McKoy's friend, Stephanie Carter, 38, of South Plainfield, said, "I love New Jersey, however, I've got to go."

In many ways, Carter, who is planning to move to Houston, reflected what the Kean Jr. campaign believes is one of the top issues in the campaign: homeowners frustrated by the state's property tax burden – the highest in the nation.

Hazelbaker said Kean Jr. was "a tax fighter" who would "make sure New Jersey's tax burden is lowered."

But that promise is a long way off for people suffering from what Carter described as the "middle-class crunch."

"At this point, I'm selling my house and moving to Texas because it's way too expensive to live here in the state of New Jersey. I'm middle class, and I'm feeling financial pressure," said Carter, adding that politicians have not been listening to or learning about what the middle class is experiencing.

She does not plan to vote in November, she said.

But others in attendance had no doubt for whom they were voting. Madison resident Louise Patterson said she has been aggressively campaigning for Kean Jr.

"He's very smart, very friendly and the kind of man I can't say enough good things about," she said, noting that she spends about five hours a day at Kean Jr. headquarters to make telephone calls hoping to gain support.

Assemblyman Kip Bateman, R-Branchburg, said he enjoyed his few minutes of chatting with Bush.

Bateman said that his sister, Caren, worked for Bush when he was vice president. "He remembered Caren," said Bateman, whose father, Ray, a former state senator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, also was with him.

Following the event, former Gov. Kean said in part he thought his son's poll numbers were stronger than earlier in the campaign because "people are getting to know him and see him."

When asked if he would regularly stump for his son, Kean said, "I'll do whatever he asks me to do."

Ming Hsu, the former commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission during the Bush administration and director of international trade during Kean's administration, flew in from California to support the younger Kean. Describing herself as a "typical northeast Republican," which she saw as more moderate politically, Hsu said, the country did not need more divisive politics.

Instead, she said, the country needed candidates "secure enough in themselves to reach out and get something done for this country. I believe Tom Kean is that kind of candidate."
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