- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

DES MOINES, IOWA Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Democratic Vice President Al Gore campaigned with the confidence of winners yesterday on the last day before Iowa's caucuses, the long-awaited official kickoff of the presidential election season.
Mr. Bush attended worship services, deflecting continued criticism that he's not committed to stopping abortion and jokingly pretending to bless the head of a reporter kneeling in front of him at the church. Mr. Gore canvassed a quiet neighborhood in the city, urging Democrats to attend the caucuses.
"Ole George W.'s the right person to be the nominee," a beaming Mr. Bush said of a poll published yesterday by the state's largest newspaper that showed him with a 23-point lead over publisher Steve Forbes. Mr. Gore had a 28-point lead over former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley in the same poll.
Although their front-runner status has been no secret, it showed nevertheless yesterday in the bounce of their steps as the two candidates greeted supporters around the city.
Mr. Bush, emerging from a two-hour service at the First Assembly of God church with pro-life rival Gary Bauer, denied Mr. Bauer's claim that he and other conservative candidates have pushed Mr. Bush to the right on the issue of abortion. Mr. Bush on Saturday said he supports the pro-life plank in the Republican Party's platform, which calls for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution.
"No one's pushing me around I ran as a pro-life candidate," Mr. Bush said. "I've been a pro-life governor. And my job as the next president, should I earn the respect of the people, is to herald life. I'm going to lead the country to a better appreciation of the importance of life."
There were indications yesterday, however, that Mr. Bush still has work to do on the issue.
During the service at the church, site of a pro-life rally the night before, Christian singer Al Denson greeted Mr. Bush from the altar and said, "Governor Bush, we missed you last night." Mr. Bauer, Mr. Forbes and candidate Alan Keyes attended the Saturday night rally with 1,000 social conservatives while Mr. Bush was campaigning elsewhere.
Mr. Bauer said outside the church that voters "shouldn't vote for anybody that's not willing to make sure we have a majority on the Supreme Court that will restore legal protection to the most defenseless among us. If a president is not willing to appoint the judges who do that, then his presidency is a failure right off the bat."
Mr. Bush has said he will not use a pro-life "litmus test" for appointing federal judges.
Asked if he believes he has pushed Mr. Bush to the right on the abortion issue, Mr. Bauer replied, "It's been good to hear other candidates begin to say some of the things I've been saying for 25 years."
At an impromptu news conference outside the church, a television reporter kneeling before Mr. Bush asked him what would be the role of religion and Christian principles in his administration.
Mr. Bush looked down at the man reverently, reached out and placed his right hand on the reporter's balding pate as if to bless him. Then he said, "Honesty, integrity, family, decency I'm going to be the president of all the people. I'll respect the traditions of all religions, but I'm going to live a life that conforms to my religion."
Mr. Bush also said he'd agree to pull television advertisements in New Hampshire criticizing rival Sen. John McCain's tax-cut plan. Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, had offered to pull ads against Mr. Bush if Mr. Bush would reciprocate.
"The dispute with Senator McCain was over the details of a plan, and the senator put out a report that they're going to tax employee-related benefits," Mr. Bush said. "Evidently he's changed his mind as to the extent of that, and that's fine. All I want to know is what his plan is."
Meanwhile, Mr. Gore walked through a neighborhood in the northern part of the city with Democratic state Sen. Elayne Szymonick, urging residents to vote in their caucuses. As he approached the home of Jack and Ginny McFarland, the couple met the vice president on their snowy front stoop.
"Howdy. How'd you know we were coming?" Mr. Gore asked, motioning to dozens of reporters and television camera operators standing in the street with the vice president's security detail and advance team.
After speaking to the McFarlands and two teen-age friends of the couple's daughters', Mr. Gore called out to reporters, "We got three out of four, and we're working on the fourth."
Mrs. McFarland, a nurse, said she supports Mr. Gore.
"I was already sold," she said. "I think he's the best-prepared of all the candidates."
But she also said she won't attend her caucus at 7 p.m. today because she must work. Mr. McFarland said he was thrilled to meet Mr. Gore, but he, too, was unsure if that excitement will move him to attend the caucus.

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