HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Only 20 percent of Connecticut voters like the job President George Bush is doing, but that didn’t stop his fellow Republicans from supporting the embattled leader Friday and opening their wallets to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash.

He received a warm welcome at Bradley International Airport from Gov. M. Jodi Rell as he arrived with U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, the state’s lone Republican congressman. The president later attended a political reception in Kent for the state GOP and state Sen. David Cappiello, a Danbury Republican running for the 5th District congressional seat.

About 425 people turned out for the event at former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s home. Tickets cost $1,000 apiece; $10,000 for a picture with Bush. State GOP Chairman Christopher S. Healy said at least $700,000 was raised – about 60 percent will go to Cappiello’s campaign.

“Clearly people believe he has been a good president and will be shown to have been a good president,” said Healy, adding that state Republicans are energized, despite Bush’s poll numbers.

“The truth is, this economy in America grew and we had a record number of jobs, we had strong exports, we had no terrorist attack post-9-11. George Bush did not take a lot of credit for that and maybe he should have.”

Cappiello said he didn’t have a second thought about asking Bush to attend.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response to seeing the president,” he said. “He is still the President of the United States of America. And I am proud to welcome this President and would be proud to welcome any President to my district.”

Cappiello acknowledged that he and Bush differ on some issues, such as support for stem cell research and how the Iraq War has been handled. In fact, in a video from a May 7, 2007 television interview, now circulating on the Internet, Cappiello says “we got into this war for the wrong reasons” and “President Bush made a big mistake.”

Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the state Democrats, said she doesn’t understand why any Republican would want to appear publicly Bush, except to raise money.

Cappiello has been criticized for those comments by a Republican State Central Committee member from Woodbury, Sean Murphy, who told the Danbury News-Times how the TV interview prompted him to recently resign from his post.

“I think when people get to know me and know that regardless of which leaders we’re speaking of, on the state or national level, I’ve never hesitated to speak my mind and disagree with leaders, even in my own party,” Cappiello said.

A March 27 Quinnipiac University Poll showed that only 20 percent of voters in Connecticut approve of the job Bush is doing – his lowest approval level with the statewide poll. Among Republicans, 56 percent approve of his handling of the presidency; 5 percent among Democrats and 18 percent among unaffiliated voters.

“He’s got the lowest approval rating of any president in current history, and for very legitimate reasons,” DiNardo said. “They don’t want to be standing with an unpopular president. I think it’s a desperate attempt by Cappiello to get some recognition and some money.

According to Federal Election Commission records, one-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., has already raised $1.8 million, while Cappiello has raised $654,655. Another Republican candidate, Anthony Nania, has raised $32,000.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk acknowledged the president’s unpopularity hurt the House Republicans in the 2006 election. Connecticut is known as a “blue state” where voters predominantly vote for Democrats.

“I think his unpopularity sort of came out almost in an act of frustration,” he said. “There was never a discussion about a state issue, not even a discussion about it.”

But like many of his fellow Republicans, Cafero said he was proud to welcome Bush to Connecticut.

“I think everybody up here, certainly Republicans, respect the office of the presidency, agree with some of the things that George Bush has done and disagree with others,” Cafero said. “I’m sure there’s that kind of feeling with every president from every party.”

AP-ES-04-25-08 1648EDT

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