Some political gurus say he’s looking for positive press to build his legacy. Others say he simply has nothing better to do — with Aaron Schock’s apparent lead in the race, George Bush can’t do much harm to his campaign.

Why will the president of the United States come to Peoria to raise money for a 26-year-old, first-time congressional candidate?

Some political gurus say he’s looking for positive press to build his legacy. Others say he simply has nothing better to do — with Aaron Schock’s apparent lead in the race, George Bush can’t do much harm to his campaign.

"My speculation is there’s not much else he can do around the country right now in terms of campaigns. His poll numbers are very low. Nobody wants to be seen with him," said Christopher Mooney, professor of political studies at the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

"(Schock) has got a comfortable lead, he’s got a lot of money, he’s got the smell of inevitability about him. If it was a close race, I don’t think you’d be seeing George Bush coming out here."

Bush will appear today at Weaver Angus Farms for a $500-per-plate fundraiser for Schock, the Republican state representative from Peoria who is running for the 18th Congressional District seat against Democrat Colleen Callahan and Green Party candidate Sheldon Schafer.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who currently holds the 18th District seat, said it’s about raising money. LaHood said he helped get the ball rolling on the event by speaking to the president’s political director along with Schock, who spoke to others in Washington, D.C.

"Both Aaron and I felt it was a way to raise thousands of dollars and it turned out that’s exactly what happened here. It was more of a political calculation and a political decision," LaHood said.

"The president has told Congress and other political groups if he can help raise money for candidates he would do it."

Robert Rich, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said the president is working on his legacy in the final months before the end of his eight-year term and wants to retain as many Republican seats in Congress as possible. He said Bush also is looking for positive press.

"At a time when the president is at an all-time low in popularity ratings, this is probably a good thing for him.

"Aaron Schock is so popular that he can say I’m a young man and I’m attracting the president of the United States," Rich said.

"Peoria has this longtime reputation of being a bellwether for the country as a whole and the president in his final few months is looking for as much positive press as he can get."

Political observers don’t expect to see much presidential campaigning between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain in Illinois because the state is considered a lock for Obama, the junior senator from Illinois.

LaHood also said there’s concern about a large Democratic turnout with Obama at the top of the ticket.

"The idea that this is a slam dunk for Aaron in any other year might be true, but with Sen. Obama from Illinois we know there’s going to be a huge turnout. We can’t take it for granted," LaHood said.

Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or kmcdonald@pjstar.com.