|KICKING OFF THE CAMPAIGN|
June 14, 1999
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SMITH: The opening was pure political theater. Backed up by the theme
from the film "2001: a Space Odyssey," Texas Governor George
W. Bush launched his own odyssey aimed at the White House in 2000.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I've been waiting for this moment for a long time.
TERENCE SMITH: The formal announcement of his candidacy won't come until the fall, but in his first foray over the weekend in Iowa and today in New Hampshire, George W. Bush left his listeners in no doubt about his intentions.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I come here today to tell you this: I'm running for President of the United States. There's no turning back. And I intend to be the next President of the United States. (Applause)
TERENCE SMITH: It was the launch of a campaign, not the culmination, but it attracted a presidential-sized press corps, including some familiar faces from the national networks. Even the reporters, like ABC's Cokie Roberts, were startled by the media congestion.
COKIE ROBERTS, ABC News: You've never seen a sight like this before. Anybody who claims that he or she has seen a sight like this before is lying. To have this number of cameras with a candidate on his first day out making his announcement is unprecedented. I think maybe when Jack Kennedy went to the caucus room there were a lot of still cameras there. But this is, I think, it must be very daunting for a candidate.
TERENCE SMITH: What did you think of the media crowd inside?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, that's a lot bigger than I've ever seen.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there a peril, a danger in all this attention?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, probably. I think it is a double-edged sword. I'll probably stumble somewhere along the line, and there'll be 100 people saying, "he stumbled!"
TERENCE SMITH: En route from Texas to his first stop in Iowa, the newest candidate joked to the press aboard his chartered aircraft, temporarily christened "Great Expectations."
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Please stow your expectations securely in your overhead bins, as they may shift during the trip and could fall and can hurt someone, especially me.
|A giant among dwarfs.|
TERENCE SMITH: But if it was excessive, the media coverage was not entirely unwarranted. At this point, 18 months before the election, George Bush is a prohibitive favorite in the polls, leading the other Republican contenders by double- digit margins, and even Vice President Al Gore by 15 or more points in most trial heats. Stuart Rothenberg is a columnist for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
STUART ROTHENBERG, Columnist, Roll Call: Right now, he is a giant among dwarfs. All the other candidates have some strengths. You know, Steve Forbes has money and he's run before. Elizabeth Dole has a smile and a personality. And Gary Bauer has true believers and a consistent ideology. But they all also have flaws. Some of them have huge flaws, maybe disqualifying flaws. George Bush doesn't -- at least at this point.
TERENCE SMITH: The Texas governor has also captured the fancy of the GOP establishment.
NEW YORK GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI: We endorse Governor Bush.
TERENCE SMITH: New York Governor George Pataki is one of 19 Republican governors who have endorsed Bush, along with 12 United States senators and 117 members of Congress. Bush is also ahead in the money race. He has raised a reported $16 million so far, most of it without leaving Texas.
Bush's commanding early lead has sucked the political oxygen out of the air for the other Republican contenders. While the Texas governor was monopolizing the cameras in Iowa Saturday, Elizabeth Dole was getting up close and personal with the prize swine at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, and Congressman John Kasich and former Governor Lamar Alexander were addressing sparse crowds elsewhere in the state. To even find the press, Alexander's campaign workers had to come to the fringes of a Bush event. Brian Kennedy is the national political director of the cash-strapped Alexander campaign.
BRIAN KENNEDY: This is an unprecedented phenomenon, to see a campaign with this type of coverage. Generally, candidates come to Iowa. They go to small groups. They're hardly noticed by the media. So, we've never seen anything like this before.
TERENCE SMITH: Does Lamar Alexander feel like he is running against -- primarily anyway -- George W. Bush?
BRIAN KENNEDY: Well, at this time, Bush is the center of attention. So what you have to do is define yourself relative to Governor Bush to be part of it. Media coverage is episodic. The episode right now is George Bush. So to be part of that, you have to juxtaposition yourself versus Governor Bush, which is fine.
TERENCE SMITH: But David Yepsen, political editor of the Des Moines Register, says there is an inherent danger in the heavy media focus on Bush.
DAVID YEPSEN: I think we have to be careful about getting in the way of this story. It's a big story for all of us, but at the same time, when there are so many of us, we change the nature of the event and we get in the way of candidates talking to real people. And so I think we have to be a little bit careful how we do our jobs in order not to interfere with the actual event we're trying to cover.
|A call compassionate conservatism.|
TERENCE SMITH: Through the floating sea of fuzzy microphones, telephoto lenses and notepads, Bush sought to define himself politically in his first full stump speech in Iowa.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: You've heard me talk about compassionate conservatism. I hope you get a feel for what I mean. It is conservative to cut taxes. It is compassionate to give Americans more money so they can save and build and dream. It is conservative to reform welfare by insisting on work. It is compassionate to take the side of charities and churches that confront the suffering that remains. It is conservative to confront illegitimacy. It is compassionate to offer practical help to women and children in crisis. It is conservative to insist on education standards, and basics and local control. It is compassionate to make sure that not one single child gets left behind.
TERENCE SMITH: Analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
STUART ROTHENBERG: I think he's more conservative than his father. I think stylistically, he's a country club Republican, a downtown business crowd Republican, not one of the evangelical right Republicans. He really is well positioned for the party, both for the nomination and I think even better as a general election candidate.
TERENCE SMITH: In the midst of his media-centric campaign, Governor Bush came here to Kennebunkport, Maine, to celebrate his father's-- President Bush's-- 75th birthday and to receive the political blessing of his parents for his own presidential bid.
BARBARA BUSH: I'm crazy about him, and I loved watching him on TV yesterday. He's talking about all the things I think America is concerned about. I feel like we've done good with this boy.
GEORGE BUSH: He doesn't need advice from me. I'll be there to support him if he just needs help and needs someone to love him, but we're not -- I'm not in the advice-- I'm not in the advice business for George at all, and he doesn't need my advice. He's got his own program, his own issues, and I think that's the best way to leave it.
TERENCE SMITH: At the Bush family compound on Walker Point, the press corps, which was huge in Iowa, seemed to have doubled or tripled. There were 28 camera crews on the manicured lawn, including two from Japan and Germany. It was equally big, probably 250-strong today, when the candidate emerged from the morning fog in New Hampshire to field questions at his first news conference as a presidential contender.
REPORTER: The Democrats are attacking compassion conservatism, calling it old Gingrich-style right-wing conservatism. What do you say?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: As I like to say, which part don't they get? Conservative or compassionate? I am pleased that the Democrats are paying attention to me. What I like to say is, I like to talk about me, and I'm glad others are talking about me. They must be worried.
TERENCE SMITH: He didn't invite anyone to read his lips as his father once famously did. But the governor did promise not to raise any personal or corporate income taxes.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know everybody's waiting with baited breath for the specific tax plan. And I'm going to be laying it out here on my timetable, and a timetable that sets to the pace of this campaign. We've got a long way to go between now and voting time.
TERENCE SMITH: On the Kosovo settlement, Bush's criticism of the Clinton administration was indirect.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I am concerned that we have a settlement without a plan of implementation.
TERENCE SMITH: But he was more pointed when it came to a question about character and honesty in public office.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's important for any of us who assume high office to understand when we put our hand on the Bible, that we swear in not only to uphold the laws of the land but that we swear in to uphold the dignity of the office to which we have been elected. It is a pledge I made to the voters of Texas, and it's a pledge that I have upheld so help me God.
TERENCE SMITH: He was also asked about his own past and his admission of heavy drinking before he swore off alcohol.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Here's what the people in New Hampshire will learn about me. I made mistakes 20 or 30 years ago, but I've learned from my mistakes.
TERENCE SMITH: In addition to the press attention along the road, George W. Bush is on the cover of both Time and NewsWeek this week.
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