RALEIGH, N.C. — Before leaving Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, President George W. Bush and his entourage made
an unscheduled stop for a glass of lemonade
offered by a group a Raleigh residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the president.
Bush, who was in town to attend a state Republican party fund-raiser, took off from
Raleigh-Durham International Airport
aboard Air Force One at 2:52 p.m.
Just before noon, the president attended at $2,000 per-person reception and headlined a $25,000-a-plate luncheon. The events, held at the home of Cliff and Peggy Benson in north Raleigh, raised $2.35 million for the
"Get Out and Vote" campaign.
The Raleigh beltline bears the name of Benson's father, Cliff Sr., a former state transportation secretary and Democrat who served under Democratic Gov. Dan Moore.
"This event is being sponsored by his son. To me, this is an indication of a lot of things that have happened in the last 40 years in North Carolina with a whole new generation. A lot of people from solid Democratic families are now Republican," said Jack Hawke, former state Republican Party chairman.
"I had no idea that I would be able to get that close to him," said Linda Robuck, who attended the fund-raiser and got an autograph from the president.
At the fund-raiser, Bush talked about life in the Oval Office, along with making tough choices, the decision to go to war and Kerry's choice for vice-president, Sen. John Edwards.
"His [Bush's] impression is that Kerry picked John Edwards because Kerry has some deficiencies that Edwards was going to cover up," event organizer Jim Cain said.
Most of the people who attended the fund-raiser said they came away impressed with the president.
"The fact that he had his entire discourse with us without any notes or text gave you the feeling that you have a better chance to get to know the president," said Bush supporter Lee Cain.
The food at the luncheon included Southern items such as North Carolina shrimp and grits and corn muffins.
Supporters and protesters lined streets leading to the fund-raiser.
"It was so exciting. I just could not believe it. When I saw him actually smiling and waving, I just could not contain myself," said Bush supporter Nancy Otero.
group of demonstrators
gathered along Six Forks and Durant roads to voice their opposition to the Bush administration.
State Department of Transportation crews were dispatched to remove a message that was spray painted on an Interstate 540 overpass at Ray Road that read, "Keep Outta Edwards' Turf!"
The president arrived in North Carolina's capital city just before 11 a.m.
At RDU, the president, who was accompanied on the flight by U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, was welcomed by state and local officials, including Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
On the tarmac, the president shook hands with a local
Guardian ad Litem
volunteer. Valerie Chaffin, of Raleigh, was rewarded for her 14 years as a volunteer advocate for children in court.
"I don't think it's going to be real until his hand is in mine," she said before meeting the president.
The president then met with three North Carolinians whose
to federal courts are stuck in political limbo. He accused Senate Democrats of blocking his nominations.
"It's not right, and it's not fair," Bush told the crowd in attendance.
The talk quickly shifted to Edwards.
Bush said he is not concerned about Edwards' potential to help the Democratic presidential campaign carry Southern states. Bush says people in the South understand he shares their values -- but that Kerry does not.
When asked how Edwards' political skills stack up against those of Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush replied, "Dick Cheney can be president." It was an apparent dig at what the Bush campaign says is Edwards' lack of experience.
Bush told reporters he has done well in the South before -- and he will do so again.
Despite numerous trips to North Carolina, Wednesday's visit is the president's first to Raleigh in 3½ years. The visit was planned weeks ago.
Democrats are hoping to make headway in Republican-leaning North Carolina with Edwards on their ticket.
Bush easily won the state four years ago. Recent polls show him with a slight lead over Kerry.
The president headed to Michigan to meet other federal court appointees whose nominations have been blocked by Senate Democrats and help raise money for the state's Republican Party.