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Bush visit all politics this time

WASHINGTON - To get a sense of how national Republicans are viewing Ohio's U.S. Senate race, look no farther than Indian Hill.

President Bush will return to the affluent Cincinnati suburb todayfor a private, invitation-only fund-raiser for Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican who most political watchers believe is one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents.

Republicans, damaged by scandals that have rocked several prominent lawmakers, need to hang on to DeWine's seat and others if they are to remain the Senate majority. Democrats smell blood and are aggressively targeting DeWine and a handful of other GOP incumbents considered beatable.

Considering what's at stake, it's no wonder that the president is coming here for DeWine, said Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University.

"Retaining the Senate is the most important thing to them, and this race is important in that process," Beaupre said. "He probably would come in for DeWine regardless of whether they feel this race is targeted by Democrats or not. But because it is, it makes it all the more important to them."

Strategically, Ohio is important for Republicans. The Buckeye State pushed President Bush over the top in the Electoral College in the 2004 election and will be a battleground again during this year's Senate elections and probably during the 2008 presidential race as well.

"It's vitally important to the Republican Party as a whole, so I think that's why you see the president coming to Ohio to support Mike DeWine," said John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party.

White House spokesman Allen Abney said the president "looks forward to continuing to work with Sen. DeWine on issues that are important to the American people and, most importantly, to the people of Ohio."

DeWine, a two-term senator and former lieutenant governor from Cedarville, Ohio, stands to significantly boost his campaign war chest at today's event.

Tickets for the fund-raiser - a dinner and reception at the home of Margie and Mark Hauser - are $4,200 per person. People who agree to raise $10,000 for DeWine's re-election campaign will be able to attend a VIP reception with Bush and have their photograph taken with the president.

DeWine campaign spokesman Brian Seitchik could not say how many people have been invited to the event or how much money it is expected to raise, but he predicted the sum will be considerable

DeWine's campaign already has raised $5.8 million and had $4.2 million in the bank at the end of last year, the most recent reporting period for which figures are available.

His most likely Democratic challenger, Congressman Sherrod Brown of Lorain, reported having $2.3 million in the bank at the end of last year.

Bush's appearance at the fund-raiser for DeWine is not only a sign that Republicans are worried about the race, it's the president's way of repaying the senator, said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But Singer pointed to a recent Survey USA poll that showed that 44 percent of Ohioans disapprove of the job DeWine is doing, while just 43 percent approve.

"Mike DeWine is in for the fight of his life, make no mistake about it," Singer said.

Another recent poll, however, by Rasmussen Reports showed DeWine beating Brown by nine percentage points, 46 percent to 37 percent.

Bush's own poll numbers have taken a nosedive over the past year. He has a 60 percent disapproval rating in Ohio, the highest of any "red state" that he won in 2004, according to Survey USA. Only 38 percent of Ohioans approve of the job he's doing.

Yet in southwest Ohio, Bush remains popular, and his appearance at today's fund-raiser will probably help DeWine, Beaupre said. He isn't among those who think DeWine is in serious trouble.

"If the Democratic Party tries to run on national issues to beat DeWine, they're going to have a tough time," he said.

"He is well-liked. People are used to voting for him. He has done the things that a senator needs to do, in terms of visibility and bringing things to the state."

But Beaupre acknowledged a DeWine-Brown race would be probably be a competitive one.

"I think Brown will run a good campaign," he said. "He'll get money. He's well organized. He's an experienced campaigner."

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