Mr. Bush spoke at a rally for Corker, the Republican Senate candidate and former Chattanooga mayor who faces a tough battle against Democrat Rep. Harold Ford Jr. to replace GOP Sen. Bill Frist. The stop attracted 500 Republican supporters and gave Corker’s campaign a critical $1.5 million boost.
The visit comes less than a month after former President Clinton attended a primary election night rally for Ford, a U.S. House representative since 1996.
Mr. Bush told supporters that Corker is qualified for the Senate because of his credentials as a successful former businessman and as a mayor of “an important Tennessee city.” He also believes that it “makes sense to send somebody up to Washington who’s not a lawyer,” contrasting Corker with Ford, who received his law degree at the age of 26 immediately prior to his first election to Congress.
The president also stressed Corker’s views of a limited role for government in helping those in need, instead focusing on efforts like the White House’s faith-based initiative that makes it easier for religious organizations to get federal grants.
“I need a soul like Bob Corker in the United States Senate who understands that many of the social problems we face require something greater than government, require the help of people who hear a higher calling to love their neighbor just like they would like to be loved themselves,” the president told the crowd of Republicans.
Despite the monetary windfall the Corker campaign received from the president’s visit, Democrats hope to use the event against Corker. The president’s approval ratings in Tennessee are well below 50 percent and Ford supporters were quick to play up Corker’s association with Mr. Bush.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Bob Tuke said the fundraiser would prove to be a “pretty significant” drag on the former mayor, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“I think they’re underestimating the capacity of Tennessee voters to draw the connection between Corker and Bush,” he said.
Corker dismissed the criticism.
“There’s no question about whether this was a good decision for [my campaign],” he told the Nashville City Paper. “I’m glad he came and there’s a good chance he’ll be back in the state on a later date.”
Ford, in an interview with the Nashville Tennessean on Wednesday night, seemed to strike an equivocal tone about the president’s visit, calling the president a “friend.”
The Democratic congressman went on to say that if the voters “are looking for a senator who does what Bush wants, I’m not the guy. But if they want a guy who supports Bush when he’s right and opposes him when he’s wrong … I’m asking voters to give our campaign consideration.”