EDISON, N.J. President Bush can't win a popularity contest in New Jersey, but he can attract cash $675,000 Wednesday night for the struggling state GOP.
"Last time I was in Jersey, there was a lot of heckling as well," Bush joked, recalling a cool welcome he received in the state controlled by Democrats.
Bush talked about terrorism, taxes and war, and said it was important that a Republican succeed him as president. But the event was not about his policies. It was about getting money for New Jersey Republicans who have raised just $7.5 million for fall elections compared to the Democrats' $17 million.
Some of the people attending the event shouted "Four more years! Four more years!" as the president, who has just a 35 percent job approval rating, took the stage to fire up GOP faithful.
In New Jersey, Bush's job approval rating is even lower 25 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in March.
That sentiment was expressed by Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who at the State House in Trenton fondly recalled how Bush wished him well after Corzine was seriously injured in an April 12 car crash, but said: "I don't wish him well in his fundraising effort."
Howard Newman of Holmdel, N.J., who paid several hundred dollars to attend the fundraiser, but not the $5,000 for the photo-op with Bush, lamented the Republican Party's slump in New Jersey. Democrats control the governor's office, both Senate seats, the majority of House seats and both houses of the state legislature.
Newman said New Jersey voters don't dislike Bush, but are upset about the war in Iraq.
"Nobody can see a win," he said, adding that he thinks Bush must wait for a chance to make a graceful exit from Iraq. "We can't see any way to succeed there. We can't see government being representative there."
Bush acknowledged the skepticism, but said he sees progress.
"In the short term we will keep the pressure on the enemy," he said. "In the long term, we must confront the circumstances by which 19 people decided to get on airplanes and kill nearly 3,000 people in a brutal attack on the United States of America."
About 700 people were said to have paid to attend the fund raiser. Two miles away, some 200 people, including labor groups and peace activists, demonstrated against Bush's foreign and domestic policies.
One demonstrator had a 60-foot banner containing the names and photos of 57 New Jerseyans who have died in Iraq and another stood on a milk crate dressed as a victim of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib.
"We're here with a message, and our message is: Bring the troops home now," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of the watchdog group Citizen Action.
Associated Press Writer Angela Delli Santi in Edison, N.J., and Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press