This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
President Bush breezed through Utah on Wednesday, raking in millions of dollars for Sen. John McCain's campaign in a pair of fundraisers, snarling traffic and eliciting both thumbs-ups and middle fingers from residents hoping to catch a presidential eye.
Bush, in his fourth trip to the Beehive State while in office, spent nearly two hours at a big-ticket fundraiser at Mitt Romney's luxurious Deer Valley home, sitting with contributors and discussing a broad range of policy issues.
"It was two hours unplugged with George Bush. It was awesome," said Don Peay, head of Utah Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and a major GOP contributor. "There was very little about politics. It was more about what goes into making decisions on the war and terrorism" and other issues.
About 100 donors paid $70,100 per couple to attend the private event.
The money will be divided up among the McCain campaign, national and state Republican parties. Some of it will be used to defray the cost of the presidential visit, the total of which was not available.
While Bush's approval rating is dismal nationally, polls show most Utahns still support the president. A contingent of more than 500 Bush opponents, however, showed up at a rally organized by former Mayor Rocky Anderson, many protesting the war in Iraq and some suggesting the president resign or be impeached.
Bush was greeted at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Mary Kaye Huntsman, former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is now secretary of Health and Human Services, and his wife, Jacalyn. The president also smiled and exchanged pleasantries with National Guard officials and Julie Beck, president of the LDS Relief Society.
Further away, 12-year-old Braden Hooton leaped onto a fence surrounding the base to catch a glimpse of Air Force One touching down. He hopes one day to be on the plane.
"I want to be the first president from Utah," Braden said. "I think it would be cool to live in the White House. And I want to fix the economy."
Cody Miller, a former Army reservist, also watched from the cheap seats. He said he wholeheartedly supports the president and believes his low approval ratings are a result of pollsters "asking the wrong people" their opinions.
Bush's 25-vehicle motorcade, led by a column of Utah Highway Patrol troopers on motorcycles, zipped through downtown Salt Lake City between clusters of people gathered on the streets to watch. Some took pictures and waved. A few waved flags. Here and there, protesters held signs or gave the motorcade a thumbs-down or other more graphic gestures.
Intersections were closed as the motorcade passed, and traffic was snarled for blocks.
The president's limousine was left in front of the home of Samuel and Diane Stewart, the hosts of the $500 per person reception, and a $10,000 per person private luncheon beforehand. Lackluster ticket sales had prompted the event to be moved to the Stewarts' home from the Grand America Hotel.
As the motorcade pulled up to the house, 8-year-old Catherine Valeo said she waved to the president from her front lawn across the street. "I thought it was neat," she said, but wasn't sure if Bush saw her.
Romney spoke for 20 minutes, thanking supporters who volunteered on his campaign and helped him get 90 percent of the vote in Utah's presidential primary, then took a dig at Sen. Barack Obama's lack of experience. "The White House is not place for an internship," he said, according to those at the event.
Sally Owen, who lives nearby, wouldn't have laughed had she been invited.
Owen, clad in a bright ''Obama 2008'' T-shirt, said someone asked her to take down a yard sign for the apparent Democratic nominee, so she added an extra one.
"We survived a tornado, so we'll survive a Bush visit," she said.
Another neighbor, April Squires, complained about the inconvenience of not being able to park, use balconies or even open windows facing the Stewart home for most of the day.
"I would have liked to have been consulted first. I'm not happy about it," said Squires, a high school teacher who planned to spend the evening at a Bush protest.
Bush apologized to the gathering for being nearly an hour late, saying he wished he could blame traffic, but he wanted to shake the hands of more than 1,000 Air Force Academy graduates. He spoke on the future of the economy, discussed anti-terrorism efforts and praised McCain as the best pick for president.
"He convinced me," said Vasilios Priskos, who said he goes between Republicans and Democrats, but now is sold on McCain.
After less than an hour, the motorcade left the home, returning to the air base, where he boarded Marine One and, along with four other helicopters, buzzed up to Park City.
A motorcade whisked him through the winding roads in Deer Valley to Romney's home for the evening reception. Leavitt was on hand, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch, Huntsman, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
After posing for photos with his generous donors, Bush took part in the open-ended question-and-answer session, blaming the Congress for failing to address energy problems years ago and saying that he considers preventing terrorist attacks his top priority, and asserting that several have been prevented.
The president planned on staying at Deer Valley overnight before choppering back to Salt Lake City today for a scheduled courtesy call with the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then his departure for yet another fundraiser, this one in Kansas.
* CATHY McKITRICK and SHEENA MCFARLAND contributed to this report.