(AP) Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's 2008 challengers are relentlessly hammering him on his ties to a struggling-in-the-polls President Bush. Coleman is about to give them more ammunition. Bush will be the featured guest at a Coleman fundraiser Aug. 21 in Eden Prairie, a Minneapolis suburb, according to an invitation The Associated Press obtained Wednesday and confirmed with a spokeswoman for the hosts.
Bush has already raised money this year for seemingly safe Republican senators in Alabama, Kentucky and Kansas. He has also headlined two fundraisers for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Minnesota event appears to be the president's first for a Senate incumbent facing a serious challenge next year.
It's an appearance that cuts both ways for Coleman: Bush is able to raise large sums of money from GOP donors, but his low approval rating has made some candidates think twice about being too closely aligned with him.
"In 2008, George Bush will be on the ballot even though George Bush isn't on the ballot," said Tom Horner, a Republican strategist in Minnesota. "I don't think any incumbent Republican senator is going to be able to run without having to deal with George Bush."
With well-heeled Democratic candidates Al Franken and Mike Ciresi vying to take on Coleman, Horner said the senator will need every dollar Bush can help him get even if it means fanning criticism about his relationship with the administration.
Cullen Sheehan, the senator's campaign manager, referred questions to the White House. A spokesman there wouldn't confirm the trip, saying Bush's travel schedule isn't released this far in advance.
According the invitation, the fundraiser will be held at the Eden Prairie home of William and Tani Austin. William Austin is chief executive officer of Starkey Laboratories Inc., a major player in the hearing aid industry. One of the company's claims to fame is that President Reagan was fitted with one of its hearing aids in 1983.
The Austins were traveling and unavailable for comment, said Heather Sauber, the couple's personal assistant. Sauber confirmed that the Austins are the hosts for the event.
The Austins are prolific Republican donors, giving more than $250,000 to GOP candidates and party accounts in the last five years, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The invitation contains multiple donor levels, up to $14,600 per couple. Those who contribute that much get their name on the program, a photo opportunity, VIP seating and a commemorative gift.
Coleman's campaign will get the first $4,600 of any donation. Anything above that goes to the state Republican Party and multi-candidate political action committees.
Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" star, pulled in more money than Coleman and the other Democratic candidates in the last fundraising period. He has used some of his campaign money to pay for recent ads showing Bush and Coleman standing arm-in-arm.
Franken spokesman Andy Barr sees the Bush fundraiser as something of a gift for Coleman's foes.
"This visit just shows that after all there is something Norm Coleman is consistent on and unfortunately that's sticking with George W. Bush," Barr said, adding, "He's making it crystal clear where his priorities are. He should be working to bring our troops home to Minnesota not to bring George W. Bush to Minnesota."
Michael Genovese, a presidential scholar at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said Republicans seem to be carefully weighing how they employ Bush heading into next year's election.
"Sending the president in early has an advantage. You get a big fundraising hit and maybe not suffer the big public relations blowback that you might if it's closer to the election," Genovese said.
"Coleman is probably trying to take advantage of the money connection early and hope that the political fallout later has less of an impact," he said. "Get the money early and try to distance yourself later."