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Laura Bush campaigns for Bachmann, Gutknecht

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Bush and Bachmann
Laura Bush speaks at a rally for 6th District candidate Michele Bachmann, right.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

First lady Laura Bush traveled to Minnesota Wednesday to help Republican congressional candidates in two tight races.

Bush attended a fundraiser in Minnetonka for Michele Bachmann, who's running in the 6th District. She then headed to Rochester to raise money for 1st District Congressman Gil Gutknecht. Bachmann is running for an open seat against Democrat Patty Wetterling and John Binkowksi of the Independence Party. Gutknecht is running for re-election against Democrat Tim Walz.

Laura Bush is a popular draw for Republicans. Michele Bachmann showed her enthusiasm for the guest of honor during the introduction.

Lynn Wilson
Lynn Wilson was among protesters outside a fundraiser for Gil Gutknecht in Rochester. Laura Bush was the featured speaker at the fundraiser.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"Isn't she a cupcake? She's such a delight," Bachmann said.

Bachmann supporters paid $500 for a breakfast at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest. Photos with the first lady required a $2,100 donation. Two-hundred people attended the event. Bachmann's campaign manager Andy Parrish said a portion of the proceeds go to the Minnesota GOP. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, White House adviser Karl Rove and House Speaker Dennis Hastert appeared separately at earlier Bachmann campaign events.

During her brief speech, Bush praised Bachmann for supporting tax cuts as state senator.

"Michele will bring to Congress the principles of efficiency and and accountability that have defined her public service," Bush said. "She'll ensure that Minnesota's tax dollars are spent widely and responsibly." 

Bush also described Bachmann as someone who understands the needs of American troops. She said those troops want the American people to stand with them until they've succeeded in securing Iraq. 

Mrs.Bush in Rochester
Laura Bush at a fundraiser in Rochester for 1st District Congressman Gil Gutknecht. Mrs. Bush made several appearances in support of Republican congressional candidates in the upper Midwest.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Members of the group Military Families Speak Out demonstrated outside the hotel where Mrs. Bush spoke. They're calling on the White House and Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq.

Earlier this week, Patty Wetterling downplayed the impact the First lady's visit would have in the 6th District.

"We're working very hard and the momentum is going well for us," Wetterling said.

After her appearance supporting Bachmann, Mrs. Bush held a similar fundraiser in Rochester to promote the re-election bid of 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht.  Gutknecht  is in what's thought to be a tight race  with DFLer Tim Walz. Some polls show Walz, a newcomer to politics, is running neck-and-neck with  Gutknecht. 

Diana Leonhardt
Diana Leonhardt was one of the Republican supporters of 1st District Congressman Gil Gutknecht who listened to Laura Bush.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Laura Bush called talked about Gutknecht's work to create jobs and his support for agriculture.

"Farming is vital to the  1st District's economy and Gil has been a powerful advocate for you through his leadership on the Agriculture Committee," she said.  "The farm bill comes up next year for reauthorization and it's important  to re-elect  Gil so that he can make sure the next bill benefits Minnesota's agriculture industry."

Mrs.  Bush noted her busy campaign travel schedule of late, saying she enjoys traversing  the country in an effort  to help elect Republicans. 

In addition to stumping for Gutknecht, the first lady  praised Republican  U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kennedy and Minnesota Gov. Tim Palwenty. Both joined her and Gurknecht on stage.

The Gutknecht campaign says about 700 people attended the rally, which they say was open to the public, but  attracted largely Republicans. 

Organizers used the so-called "Minnesota Victory Rally 2006" to sign up get-out-the-vote volunteers.

Diana Leonhardt put her name on the list.  She was delighted to see the first lady and despite polling which shows Republicans are in trouble, she predicts GOP candidates will prevail.

"I think when they finally go and vote I think they're going to do very well. I think people are going to think about what's happening and it's going to come down that the want to stay the course," she said.

But a couple of blocks down the street from the Mayo Civic Center a few Demolcrats holdong campaigns signs on a busy street corner offered an optimistic assessment  of  their party's prospects.

The chair of the Olmsted County DFL,  Lynn Wilson, was getting a reaction from some passing motorists with her "Honk for Change" sign.  Wilson made it clear she and the others were not protesting the first lady, but instead were  reminding voters about Democratic candidates.  

Wilson also offered her version of the political analysis of why Laura Bush, not George Bush, was asked to come to Minnesota.

"With  the very, very poor approval rating of our current president,  he is not the one they're sending here  to try to stimulate the base. The only reason Laura Bush would be coming  at this point in the campaign to Rochester is because they are in desperate trouble and when they're in trouble, they send out the top of their ticket and in this case it's Laura Bush," she said.

But the Republican leaders at the rally maintain the GOP is making progress in most polls and that even if a particular candidate is trailing a Democrat by a few points,  the strong get-out-the-vote push the Republicans say they're engineering will bring victory  to them.