- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Laura Bush took the spotlight Thursday for her work in literacy and early-childhood development, just hours before her husband took center stage at the Republican National Convention.

Mrs. Bush was the honoree at a $150-a-plate lunch at the Convention Center Marriott. It was designed to establish her as a national spokeswoman on education, an issue Republicans have long coveted as their own.

"For too long, the Democrats have acted like they own education," Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro told the crowd, "but under the leadership of George W. Bush, education is our issue."

Flanked by a stage set of faux book shelves emphasizing Mrs. Bush's past work as a teacher in Houston and Austin, the honoree credited her parents, Harold and Jenna Welch, with inspiring her with an early love of learning.

"My parents instilled in me a strong faith and a passion for doing the very best," she said. "The way you and I raise our children today will affect our society tomorrow."

She then applauded her mother, who attended the lunch. Her father is deceased.

Ever since her first-grade year in Midland, Texas, the Welches were determined their only child was destined for college.

Mrs. Bush not only went to college, but graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 with a degree in education, then got her master's degree in library science from the University of Texas in Austin in 1973.

Her specialty in noncontroversial education issues is considered a bonus for the Bush campaign, which has taken every opportunity to benefit from what the Philadelphia Daily News called "the Laura factor."

Her husband introduced her to the crowd, saying that she and Elizabeth Dole, wife of 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole "sure raised the bar, if you know what I mean."

Mrs. Bush only spoke for 10 minutes, mostly on her hopes of "creating families of readers."

The lunch was sponsored by the National Federation of Republican Women, which has coined a slogan, "No child left behind," for the campaign.

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