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Florida trip boosts Bush coffers

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The state that put President Bush in the White House put $2.6 million into his reelection campaign yesterday, swelling a record-breaking war chest that already dwarfs those of the Democratic presidential contenders.

Bush also tended to his reelection during his 17th trip as president to Florida by dipping into a political topic high on the agenda of the nation's elderly, a key voting bloc. Between two fund-raisers, Bush used the state with the highest percentage of residents age 65 and older as a backdrop to press Congress to finish major Medicare legislation.

The president said America's seniors are tired of the delays in getting them coverage under Medicare for prescription drugs.

"We've had plenty of talk in Washington, we've debated this issue for a long time. Now is the time for action," Bush said at the Englewood Neighborhood Center after a private talk with several seniors struggling with high drug bills.

Trading the cold bluster of the nation's capital for Florida's warm sunshine, Bush went to Disney World, where 600 supporters munched Mickey Mouse-shaped Rice Krispies treats and buffet items at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The luncheon raised $860,000 for his campaign.

In the evening, Bush was due on Florida's Gulf Coast for an event set to collect another $1.7 million from 700 donors at the home of Al Hoffman Jr., national cochairman of Bush's 2000 campaign.

The two fund-raisers increased the president's 2004 cash collection to at least $102.9 million. With fund-raising through the mail and over the Internet factored in, Bush is probably at or over the record $106 million he raised for the primaries in 2000.

This time around, the president has no GOP primary challenger, meaning he can spend all the money targeting the Democratic nominee-to-be before the general election season begins.

By Bush's side for the Orlando-area events was Representative Katherine Harris, a reminder of the disputed 2000 election that ended with a Supreme Court ruling on the Florida results. Harris earned fame as the state's secretary of state during the presidential recount and is now a GOP congresswoman from Florida.

Also with Bush was his brother Jeb, Florida's Republicangovernor, who helped put on display the Bush family's penchant for good-natured teasing.

Introducing his brother as "Mr. President" appeared to give Jeb Bush pause. "I still haven't quite got used to it yet," he said, to much laughter.

The president fought back. "Thanks, Jeb, I mean governor," he said, promptly jabbing his brother for being "a modest fellow" who nonetheless has claimed credit for the Florida Marlins' baseball championship.

"I told him he doesn't have any idea what it take to run a championship baseball team," said the president, once the owner of the lackluster Texas Rangers. "He reminded me -- I don't either."

Ribbing done, the pair then began to sound more like politicians.

Bush gave a spirited defense of his record on national security, the economy, education, trade, and the budget.

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