Bush relatives attend bash for Md. GOP

Former president and Gatlin Brothers are headliners at fund-raiser

Presidential Inauguration

January 19, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - While his soon-to-be inaugurated son made the rounds at other candlelight dinners nearby, former President George Bush dropped in on a lavish fund-raiser for Maryland Republicans last night and made them feel they hadn't missed the party after all.

It was one of the biggest fund-raisers that the Maryland GOP has staged in recent memory. The $250-per-person ($1,000 for VIPs) gala at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce national headquarters had a choir, a chamber music group and plenty of wine, shrimp and political speeches.

The black-tie event featured the Gatlin Brothers band, a favorite of President-elect George W. Bush, the former Texas governor. All that was missing was a star - until Bush's dad, George H. W. Bush, the 41st president, appeared on stage with his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, known as Doro.

Doro Bush, who lives in Montgomery County, had been scheduled to be the headliner. But rumors quickly circulated among the crowd of U.S. House members, Republican state lawmakers and assorted party faithful that the senior Bush might soon be in the house. "Who knows, there could be a surprise appearance," state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe said with a wink.

There were whoops from the main hall 30 minutes later as Bush was spotted at one end of the stage, waiting to be introduced by Michael Steele, the state party chairman. Bush wore a pin-striped, navy suit and Barbara Bush wore a black dress with her customary pearls.

The former president gave the audience a military salute. "We're on a kind of roller-coaster here, a merry-go-round, so we're going to pop in for a moment," he said.

"People say, `How does it feel that your son on Saturday will be the next president?' It's a family thing," said Bush, who was inaugurated 12 years ago and is a sentimental favorite at the events surrounding tomorrow's inauguration of his son.

Bush said the president-elect hopes to heal partisan wounds left over from the rancorous election. "I am convinced the Democrats will meet him halfway."

He said the hardest thing was trying not to cry. He said he had recently asked his doctor, "Is there a medicine that holds the tears back?" But he quickly added: "I'm not going to go that route."

Said Koch: "We're all sort of a crying family, and we're trying not to embarrass George."

Before leaving, the former president said he had to hear a Gatlin Brothers number. The musicians obliged with a Texas favorite about Houston. Barbara Bush bounced up and down on her heels to the song.

George W. Bush didn't come close to carrying Maryland in the November election, and state Republicans held out little hope that the president-elect would appear at their glittering preinaugural bash.

"Frankly, I didn't ask him," Koch said in an interview. "But I'm so thrilled my parents came."

So were the 600 Republicans in attendance and the corporate sponsors, which included Comcast, Verizon and Marriott Corp.

While fund-raising totals weren't immediately available, last night's event was the largest in recent memory, said Kevin Igoe, a consultant to the state party. He said the take was expected to surpass the annual "Red, White and Blue" fund-raisers that typically bring in $30,000 to $60,000.

The Maryland GOP has not always been treated kindly at presidential inaugurations, even when a Republican is assuming office. Some in the crowd favorably compared last night's party to the 1988 inaugural ball.

"In '88, we got lumped in [for Maryland's ball] with all of the other states that didn't vote Republican," recalled Martin G. Madden, the state Senate Republican leader. "This year the traffic is not as bad, and the coat check line is running smoothly."

Madden sported a black cowboy hat for the event, courtesy of a nephew from Dallas.

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