WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush”s public return to politics yesterday was a family affair a fund-raiser for his “big little brother” and, as the White House described it, an election-year duty to democracy.

“These are serious times that face our nation and these serious times require serious leaders,” said the president, star attraction at a reception to raise at least $500,000 for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush”s re-election campaign.

Turning to his younger brother, Bush added: “And you”re here to support a really good, serious man. I want to thank you all for making his campaign more viable.”

Bush, who avoided overt politicking late last year in deference to the war on terrorism, made a gentle first foray into what is already shaping up to be a bitterly fought midterm election.

In his 10-minute remarks to donors, Bush had not one critical word for Democrats but instead reiterated praise for two, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, who worked with the White House on education reform.

With sister Doro and brother Marvin filling out the evening”s “all-Bush” marquee, the president called the reception an “ole family reunion.”

Dinner afterward was expected to net the Florida Republican Party hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bush can be counted on to be increasingly active for like-minded Republican candidates. “That way, his ideas as president and commander in chief can be carried into law,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The narrow Democratic majority in the Senate is at stake in November, as is the slender GOP edge in the House. Some three dozen governors” seats are up for grabs, and these, too, are important to Bush. Republican governors in key states can go a long way toward helping his 2004 re-election campaign.

Bush has not announced his intentions toward a second term, but his political team is preparing to run. On Monday, Bush travels to two states Illinois and Missouri that will be important to any 2004 aspirations.

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