Cash-strapped New Jersey Republican candidates in two of the tightest congressional races in the country are bringing in President Bush to headline a joint fund-raiser, delighting Democrats who say that tying themselves to a president with low approval ratings will work in their favor.
In invitations circulating around the state, Chris Myers of Burlington County and State Sen. Leonard Lance of Hunterdon County are asking potential donors to contribute as much as $123,200 to attend. The money would go to their campaigns, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The affair is scheduled for Sept. 22 in Colts Neck, Monmouth County.
Bush's approval ratings in the most recent national polls range from 28 to 34 percent. Historically, he has polled lower in New Jersey.
"These guys need money and regardless of how Democrats and independents feel about him, George Bush is still the incumbent president and can raise a lot of money," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Lance and Myers, he said, need the money, but by holding a fund-raiser with the president make it impossible to distance themselves from him.
Democrats, who have made the president a campaign issue, said they welcomed the fund-raiser, with Carrie James at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calling it "game-changing."
She said, "Both have been trying to run away from the Republican brand. They're embracing Bush and stuffing their campaign coffers with his money."
Lance's campaign manager, Amanda Woloshen, said voters see her candidate as an independent who has sided with Republicans and Democrats depending on the issue.
Myers' campaign manager, Chris Russell, said Democrats have their own image problems, with Gov. Corzine's low approval ratings. A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released this week showed the governor had a 41 percent approval rating.
The poll of 914 registered voters was conducted between Sept. 4 and 8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Polling director Peter Woolley said, "It's not fair to say Jon Corzine is as unpopular as George Bush."
In New Jersey, a strong blue state, Woolley found that Bush has a 22 percent approval rating overall and that fewer than 50 percent of Garden State Republicans he polled approve of the president.
Still, party planners are hoping to attract enough Republicans to bolster their campaign war chests.
Invitees to the fund-raiser have been asked to contribute between $40,000 and $123,200 - the maximum allowed under federal law - depending on whether they are individuals or political committees. Couples can pose for a photograph with the president for $10,000.
Myers is seeking to replace retiring U.S. Rep. James Saxton (R., N.J.) in the Third District, and Lance wants to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson (R., N.J.) in the Seventh District.
Both Republicans face well-funded Democrats.
Myers, the mayor of Medford and a Lockheed Martin vice president, is up against State Sen. John Adler (D., Camden) in the district that includes Cherry Hill in Camden County and runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties.
Lance, a full-time legislator, faces Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union) in the district that runs from Hunterdon County to Union County.
Both Democrats reported having more than $1 million in cash on hand, with Myers having $155,000 and Lance having $81,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports.