STOCKTON — President George W. Bush told about 600 well-heeled supporters Tuesday to vote for seven-term Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, if they want to hold onto tax cuts, win the war in Iraq, and end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
“We will stay in Iraq and we will win in Iraq,” said Bush to loud cheers at the breakfast fundraiser at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium.
Bush was in town to raise money for Pombo, who’s in a competitive race for the 11th Congressional District seat with Democrat Jerry McNerney, a Pleasanton wind-energy engineer.
The fundraiser generated about $400,000, said Pombo campaign manager Carl Fogliani. Pombo has already been helped to at least a $2 million fundraising lead over McNerney, in part by local fundraisers featuring the vice president, speaker of the house and senate majority leader.
In a 20-minute speech, Bush praised the congressman and urged support for his anti-terror campaign and the war in Iraq, and slammed Democrats as people who will raise taxes.
Bush said al-Qaida has made Iraq a central front in its war against the U.S., and said his military strategy was to stay “on the offense.”
Bush praised a recent bill that legalizes what critics call torture, saying rough interrogation tactics had helped break up terrorist cells and prevented terrorist attacks, and he again defended the government’s warrantless phone-tapping operations, a program with which Pombo has publicly disagreed.
“I wish I could tell you that there wasn’t a war — but that’s not the truth. That’s not the reality of the world in which we live,” Bush said, as he reminded the crowd of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 attacks to justify the war in Iraq and to denounce Democrats, such as McNerney, who want to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and ban interrogations that McNerney and other critics equate with torture.
Outside the auditorium, a few hundred vocal protesters chanted slogans and waved signs critical of the president.
And then there was Nadia McCaffrey, who quietly held a photograph of her dead son, U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick Ryan McCaffrey of Tracy, who died in 2004 fighting for the U.S. in Iraq. Protestors and dozens of riot police flanked her.
Retired U.S. Marine Motecuzoma Sanchez, who served in Iraq, stood nearby in his uniform holding a handwritten “Bush lied” sign.
Protestors, some of whom chanted, “No more war,” and, “Bring the troops home,” heckled attendees after the fundraiser as they exited the gardens of the auditorium through gates in the well-guarded fence.
“I think they need to get a job,” said Robert Flower of Lodi after he was accused by Lisa Jones from Stockton of supporting warmongers.
McNerney, who chatted with protesters while the president spoke, has said he wants to draw up a nine- to-12-month timetable for troop withdrawal.
“(Bush’s) speech was wildly partisan and, I think, irresponsible,” McNerney said. “Their policies have made America less safe, and we need strong and tough but smart policies to make us more secure.
“Democrats can bring fairness to justice without resorting to torture — that breaks 230 years of American tradition. It’s against human rights, and it’s not a reliable way to get information.”
McNerney also responded to Bush’s and Pombo’s support of tax cuts.
“They call them tax cuts, but the deficit spending is really putting a tax on our nation’s credit card, and that bill is going to be paid — they’re really raising our taxes, they’re just paying for them later,” he said.
But Bush told the crowd that the Democrats were economically irresponsible.
“If (McNerney) wins, your taxes will go up — make no mistake about it. The Democratic party is anxious to get their hands on your money.”
Bush praised Pombo for representing the 11th District, telling the audience that it could trust Pombo.
“It makes sense for the state of California to trust a man who knows what it means to make a living off the land,” said Bush of the former rancher, who grew up on his family’s farm.
Pombo returned Bush’s kind words.
“This person has stood firm — he has recognized that this is an enemy that must be defeated,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticized Bush’s speech, saying he has ignored his own generals, intelligence officers and the American people on Iraq.
“What President Bush and this Congress still don’t seem to understand is that the American people demand accountability,” Kate Bedingfield said.
Pombo easily beat McNerney in 2004, but separate polling published this week by anti-Pombo campaigners Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and the McNerney campaign suggest McNerney might be slightly ahead or level with the congressman.
State Assemblyman and Master of Ceremonies Greg Aghazarian welcomed multimillionaire developer Alex Spanos before he welcomed Stockton Mayor Edward Chavez, both of whom were in attendance.
Bush veered in his speech to talk about his wife, mother, family values, and Spanos, who is a major GOP donor.
Earlier in the day, Pombo was at Bush’s side at the Radisson Hotel in Stockton as he signed a wetlands protection bill authored by the congressman.
• To reach reporter John Upton,e-mail email@example.com.