- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Laura Welch Bush, once the politically reluctant daughter of West Texas, became the campaign darling of the GOP last night, delivering a confident speech on the promise of educational opportunity for all children.
Her remarks, broadcast on prime-time television, served as a powerful introduction to the nation of the former teacher and librarian who stepped out of the background and into the spotlight in recent months as a polished political companion to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"I have never had this many people watch me give a speech before, but I feel very at home here in this classroom setting," said Mrs. Bush, who entered the hall amid cheers, falling confetti and the strains of the Jackson 5's "ABC." "Education is the living room of my life."
Former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were on hand for the speech. They were joined by Laura Bush's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, 18, and her mother, also named Jenna. All watched proudly from a booth in the First Union Center as Mrs. Bush captivated the audience with her quiet elegance and soft Texas drawl, touting her husband's record on education, an issue long dear to her own heart.
While her speech was upbeat, she took veiled shots at the scandal-plagued Clinton administration, saying her husband would take seriously the responsibility of the position and restore honor to the White House.
"The president is the most visible symbol of our country, of its heart and its values and its leadership in the world," she said. "And when Americans vote this November, they will be looking for someone to uphold that high honor and that trust."
Drawing on anecdotes recalling home, family and their life together, Mrs. Bush told of wanting to become a teacher so badly, she pretended to teach her dolls as a child. She promised to make early childhood development a priority if she becomes first lady.
Mrs. Bush, the first in her family to graduate from college, stressed the importance of Mr. Bush's proposed $5 billion Reading First initiative, designed to make sure "every child in every neighborhood learns to read at grade level by third grade."
"We wanted to teach our children what our parents had taught us … that reading is entertaining and interesting and important. And one of the major reasons George is running for president is to make sure every child in America has that same opportunity to grow up reading," Mrs. Bush told the cheering delegates, who packed the convention hall for a spirited first night session.
She touted his record in Texas where a recent Rand survey found that education reforms in the state had produced some of the highest achievement gains in the nation.
"It happened because George led the way, focusing state money and schools' attention on reading," she said. "We developed a rigorous research-based curriculum; we funded intensive in-school, after-school and summer-school reading intervention programs. We improved teacher training."
Her remarks came toward the end of the evening that focused on children and education, featuring speakers and video presentations on the importance of character, choice, accountability, enrichment and "no excuses" reform.
She was introduced by principal Michael Feinberg and his students from Houston's KIPP Academy, a high-performing charter school where 90 percent of pupils are low-income, but have drawn national attention for their academic success.
Their accomplishments in spite of their circumstances, which include posting the highest middle school scores in Houston on the state's standardized test, set the tone for Mrs. Bush, who used her moment in the spotlight to echo her husband's campaign message that all children, no matter their background, should be expected to excel.
Married to Mr. Bush for 23 years, Mrs. Bush assured that her husband was good for his word and ready to offer thoughtful, seasoned leadership for the nation. "His core principles will not change with the winds of polls or politics or fame or fortune or misfortune," Mrs. Bush said. "I know because I've known him through big legislative successes and a few defeats. I sat by his side during some winning and many losing baseball seasons. But George never loses sight of home plate."
Early Monday, Mrs. Bush expressed pre-speech jitters, appearing on several morning talk shows in advance of her convention address. "It's unbelievably amazing for me, I guess, and awesome to think that I'm going to open the convention that will nominate my husband for president of the United States," she said on NBC.
Before Mrs. Bush left Columbus, Ohio, for Philadelphia yesterday afternoon, accompanied by her twin daughters, sleep deprivation was the cause of some good-natured ribbing between Mr. Bush and Mrs. Bush.
Mrs. Bush lay awake most of Sunday night thinking about the convention speech, even listening to their host's grandfather clock chime at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and finally, 5 a.m., when she got out of bed to prepare for morning talk-show appearances, campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said.
Mr. Bush "teased" his wife that she was waking him up too early, Mrs. Hughes said. Mrs. Bush returned the ribbing, saying Mr. Bush should be glad she was getting up so early to appear on television for him. "I think she was a little restless," Mrs. Hughes said.
Mrs. Bush worked on her well-received speech for several weeks and did a run-though on Sunday night in front of an audience of friends and staff members staying at a private residence in Cincinnati.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from Philadelphia, and Dave Boyer, traveling with the Bush campaign, contributed from Columbus, Ohio.

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