WASHINGTON (CNN) # President Bush took the first formal step in his re-election bid by filing Friday with the Federal Election Commission, a move that allows him to start building his campaign structure and a treasury that the White House expects to again top $100 million.
“The American people will decide whether or not I deserve a second term,” Bush told reporters in response to a question as he left the White House for Camp David. “In the meantime I am focusing my attention today on … helping people find work. And that’s where I’m going to be for a while.” Bush also mentioned national security as a priority.
The filing was part of a carefully planned campaign in which Bush is expected to try to remain above the political fray, enjoy the benefits of an incumbent and wait to formally declare his candidacy. The president hopes to avoid the misfortune of his father, former President George Bush, who was in office when the Persian Gulf War was won but lost his 1992 re-election bid as the economy foundered.
A clerk with the Federal Election Commission confirmed Friday that the Bush-Cheney campaign filed its paperwork for the 2004 presidential race. The paperwork included a statement of candidacy and a statement of organization. The campaign’s formal name: ”Bush-Cheney ’04 Inc.”
Fund raising is ”one of the reasons for the forms,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer, who didn’t announce the filing but confirmed it in response to a reporter’s question. Fleischer said he expects the Bush-Cheney campaign to raise between $100 million and $200 million. Bush shattered records in 2000 by raising more than $100 million.
Fleischer said an announcement by Bush about his campaign plans would likely come “substantially down the road.
“Right now, this is the building block phase, the legal phase, the fund-raising phase,” Fleischer said.
Fleischer said the campaign will not seek federal matching funds during the primary, giving the campaign more freedom in raising and spending its money. The first fund-raising solicitations are expected within days, and the first fund-raising event is expected next month.
Ken Mehlman, White House political director, will be the campaign’s manager. Mercer Reynolds, former ambassador to Switzerland and a longtime Bush supporter, will be finance chairman, and Jack Oliver, deputy chief of the Republican National Committee, will be the deputy finance chairman, Fleischer said. Karl Rove remains Bush’s chief political strategist.
Bush has come under fire from Democrats over a slumping economy and a tax-cut bill working its way through Congress that the president contends will create hundreds of thousands of jobs before elections.
Some Democrats grumble that Bush had already launched his re-election bid, describing recent high-profile events # such as the president’s landing on an aircraft carrier this month # as campaign events. The White House has rejected that characterization.
The White House appears to be hoping that the nine Democratic candidates will weaken each other in the primary campaign, while Bush continues to ride his postwar popularity.
”It certainly seems from here that the emerging Democratic theme is to snipe at each other,” Fleischer said, casting the president as above the fray. ”He will continue to govern; that is what he was elected to do.”
The filing comes about 18 months before the November 2004 election. By comparison, President Clinton filed his FEC papers about 19 months before the 1996 election; the first President Bush filed his papers about 13 months before the 1992 election.